Leaders must include small business owners

By PAUL DeMARCO | Guest Columnist

Note: This is an opinion column.

As we watch the pandemic’s effect on public health, we pray first and foremost for scientists and physicians to find medications to treat the sick and prevent the healthy from falling ill.  From UAB to the University of South Alabama Medical Center, Alabamians are not only helping those afflicted but seeking cures to this pandemic and we pray they’re successful.

Public safety and  the well being of each American citizen regardless of age must be the number one priority for our elected officials at the state and national level. Yet, state leaders should also be thinking ahead to the eventual recovery to follow the defeat of the virus and plan accordingly.

In addition, to the health crisis, the Nation is also watching the devastation on the United States economy. President Donald Trump and congressional leaders have moved forward with legislation to attempt to mitigate the resulting damage to employers, employees and the markets.

Yet, small business owners like Terry Humphryes, the owner of Billy’s Bar & Grill,  are working hard to survive the impact on their businesses. He has had to balance keeping his employees on the payroll, while also dealing with the impact of new regulations related to unemployment compensation and the Family Medical Leave Act effect on his restaurant. In addition, he has employees who now have children at home because schools are closed for the rest of the academic year. Mr. Humphryes story is the story of countless small business owners across our state facing uncertainty.

Most small business owners are dealing with the burden of being closed, while some larger competitors have remained opened. Small business proprietors are struggling to plan for the future without knowing when they will be allowed to reopen.  Finally, business owners are uncertain as to what financial relief they may get to maintain or restart their companies.

Governor Ivey rightly created a state task force to immediately address public health due to the COV-19 virus. The governor should now appoint a task force of those in the business and financial industry to address the state’s economic health as well. Stakeholders in the business community need to make recommendations on how the state handles the current economic crisis and moves forward in the future once we get this pandemic behind us.

It is critical small business owners be part of the discussions on how the state reacted during this crises so that we will be better prepared for these situations in a future pandemic.

It is important for all of us to remember that small business owners employ the majority of Alabama working citizens.  It is key to our economic recovery that the policy makers hear directly from those on the front line of the small business world.

Our Nation will heal and Alabama has the ability to return to its strong economic success if we work together to support our neighbors. Let’s include everyone in putting those plans in place now for the benefit of its citizens so our actions in crisis are a model to the Nation.

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives.