Commentary, Opinion

How to jumpstart Vermont’s small business recovery

By Shawn Shouldice

Small business challenges have persisted for years due to wage mandates, health insurance premium increases, paid family leave requirements, climate change policies that raise energy costs, and higher taxes or trouble hiring due to the state’s aging demographics. But when Governor Scott declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020, a whole new world of “small business challenges” landed on the backs of those small business owners from which they may not recover.

The pandemic caused small business owners to rethink how they do business. Some had to make infrastructure changes like adding Plexiglas barriers and establishing traffic flows. They coped with customer capacity limits and ramped up their online presence to compete with larger more established businesses. And they implemented curbside and delivery services.

Unfortunately, many others were forced to shut down permanently because implementing safety protocols were too costly. Vermont’s small businesses have defined the look and feel of our downtowns and community centers, yet the consequences of this pandemic have dramatically transformed many into ghost towns.

Small businesses in Vermont are crucial to the state’s economic recovery. Before the pandemic, they provided 157,322 jobs in the state, more than 60% of the state’s workforce, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Companies with fewer than 20 employees created the largest percentage of new jobs. They may be small, but side by side they are an economic powerhouse.

After nearly a year of financial hardship and mandated closures and restrictions, many Vermont small businesses need continued support from customers and the government to help to get through this unprecedented time.

When Governor Scott announced that the first vaccines were available and being distributed, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel.

The Governor asked the Vermont General Assembly in his inaugural speech and budget address to join him in focusing on a path to economic recovery. NFIB, an association representing a thousand small businesses in Vermont, supports his proposal to dedicate $10 million in the amended budget to provide a lifeline to Vermont’s job creators.

It needs to come sooner rather than later!

We ask the focus be placed on fulfilling critical needs and mitigating impending cost shocks that will endanger struggling businesses. NFIB’s priorities include:

Unemployment Insurance Relief — stop increases in unemployment taxes employers pay when they weren’t responsible for the forced layoffs or the depletion of the state’s unemployment trust fund.

Limiting Liability —  grant businesses protection from legal challenges related to Covid-19 if they followed all the state’s safety requirements because paying to defend a single lawsuit, even if they are innocent, is likely to put them out of business.

Additional Business Grants Pass —Gov. Scott’s proposal for economic recovery grants to businesses that did not receive federal or state aid.

The key is for lawmakers is to “first, do no harm” by avoiding mandates and regulations that increase small business costs while supporting those who desperately need help recovering. It will lead to the revival of Main Street and a surge in jobs and economic growth all in the Green Mountain State.

Shawn Shouldice is state director of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) which advocates for small businesses Vermont.

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