Published first on the Progress News, February 15, 2021

All around the globe, people have been stepping up, responding to the challenges brought about or highlighted by the events of the last year.  Small businesses, too, have been doing what they can, both to help their communities and to help themselves survive these tumultuous times.  Frederick Douglass famously said that “if there is no struggle, there is no progress,” and this week I’d like to celebrate both the struggle and the progress of small businesses.  I’d also like your help to lift up and celebrate those local businesses that are leading the way.  Send in your stories of small businesses that have impressed you with their civic responsibility, adaptability, or both, and I will feature them in an upcoming column!

The Small Business Administration has a somewhat convoluted definition of what constitutes a “small” business, depending on industry.  For some types of business, such as manufacturing, any company with less than 500 employees is considered small, while for others, like wholesale trade, it’s 100 employees.  Many industries have a revenue threshold rather than an employee limit.  A construction firm is considered a small business if it generates less than $28.5 million in annual revenue, while a farm is considered small if it generates less than $750,000 each year.  According to the PA Small Business Development Center, most businesses fall into the “small” category, with almost a million small businesses registered in Pennsylvania, making up 98.2% of the state’s employers and employing nearly half of the workforce.  Small businesses truly are the lifeblood of our communities!  

So, what have small businesses been doing to make it through the past year?  I’m sure it’s no surprise that adaptability and creativity have been key, with businesses changing up how they operate or shifting their focus.  Many, from restaurants to retail stores to veterinary clinics, have embraced the curbside experience and have discovered several benefits, such as reduced overhead costs and lower employee fatigue.  Consumers, also, have largely appreciated the convenience of scheduling or ordering online and minimizing in-person wait times.  A survey by market research firm Insiciv found that 90% of consumers prefer curbside services, signaling that the trend is here to stay.

Some, from bakeries to physical therapists to event planners, have succeeded by embracing the surge in virtual connectivity, turning to online platforms to serve their customers.  These enterprises traditionally depend on in-person interactions, and, according to a Forbes report, saw their business drop by up to 95% after the pandemic hit.  But by turning to technology, such as online cooking classes, web-based telehealth visits, and innovative virtual events, many of these businesses have not only rebounded but have found new opportunities for meaningful connections with their customers and their communities.  

Now I’d like to hear from you!  Who are your local small business superstars?  From mom-and-pop shops to factories with a few hundred employees, which companies would you like to spotlight for their creativity, flexibility, and commitment to the community?  If you are a small business owner, do you have strategies for success you’d like to share with others?  We all look forward to hearing your stories!