Roy Green: The survival of small business owners should concern us all

The elderly Calgary garage owner broke down in tears repeatedly on air relating his deep concern over the very possible end to the entrepreneurial effort into which he invested his last dollar.

The reason? The pandemic lockdown.

He is not alone.

Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the national lobby group representing the interests of the nation’s small business sector, has shared on air weekly during the lockdown the themes raised in correspondence the CFIB has received from entrepreneurs.

That correspondence includes words of deep despair, even suicide.

The CFIB’s most recent data shows three per cent of small business owners are sure their enterprises will not survive if restrictions on reopening continue until the end of May. This, according to Kelly, would represent the loss of some 30,000 businesses to the national economy.

Another 35 per cent state they may not survive and an additional 38 per cent are not sure of their sustained viability if emergency measures remain in place until month’s end, Kelly said.

While optimism is slightly improved due, in part, to provincial governments signalling reopening measures and small business support programs kicking in. The CFIB’s Business Barometer at the end of April rose 9 index points to 46.4. An index level of 65 is needed to indicate the economy is growing at its potential.

Employment prospects? Only nine per cent of small business owners plan on hiring in the next three months, while 48 per cent plan on cutting back.

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Emails I have received from small business owners do express appreciation for the federal government’s rental relief program, as not having funds to pay rent for their establishments weighed very heavily on so many entrepreneurs. Yet there exists concern that landlords, and not the small business owners, must apply for this rent subsidy.

In the U.S., the situation is no better. A survey conducted a week ago by Peak Prosperity projects 70 per cent of small business owners plan to hire fewer employees back to perform the same work, and a mere four per cent plan to hire in numbers greater than prior to the pandemic.

Incrementally, provinces are engaging in reopening their economies and the question now must be, is the pace sufficient?

Kelly shared that approximately 60 per cent of Canada’s jobs are created by small and medium enterprises. Their concerns are our concerns.

Is it time to more rapidly remove emergency restrictions on this vital employer group and trust these entrepreneurs to engage in the kind of physical distancing and scheduled cleaning of their operations identical to what is conducted by their peers whose enterprises have been defined as essential services?

Since many, if not most, invest, work, employ and live in the communities they serve, the answer from here would appear to be yes.

Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.

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