A small business owner on the important role of government in creating a fair marketplace | Opinion

Dan Swenson, owner of Butter Bakery in Minneapolis. Courtesy photo.

This has been one of the toughest years to be a small business owner. And yet, many of us made it through thanks to the support of federal, state and local government programs. From grants and the Paycheck Protection Program to larger public health measures like vaccine research and distribution, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What comes next, however, is less certain. Once the immediate crisis has passed, will small businesses be left to pick up the pieces, competing with corporate giants who’ve only used the pandemic to grow their market share?

Small business owners want effective, equitable and intentional government support for a thriving small business sector. Though this preference may run counter to conventional wisdom, it reflects the priorities and day-to-day reality of real small business owners across geography, race, gender and even political affiliation.

A new report released this month from Business Education Fund — in partnership with the Main Street Alliance — reveals that 67% of small business owners overwhelmingly believe in government responsibility for protecting Main Street.

Many people believe that there’s a mythic quality to small businesses owners and entrepreneurs. The go-getter, do-it-alone types who wanted to be their own bosses. But small business owners like me also know just how interdependent we are and how much support is needed for a business to thrive. And when you can’t get that support, no amount of tenacity will save you. That’s where the government can step in to level the playing field.

Entrepreneurship is heralded as a path to opportunity. Yet it is only through government efforts to create a more equal economy — with a specific commitment to dismantling systemic racism — that entrepreneurship can contribute to generational wealth, financial security and prosperous local economies.

That is, only government can make the public investments at scale and set the market rules necessary to sustain a thriving small business economy. These investments cannot be left to philanthropy, which does not have the resources and policy tools to generalize benefits, nor to the market as currently structured, which creates lopsided incentives for monopolization.

Moreover, for effective delivery of the scale of relief necessary, it must be done through an open, democratic process — one only government can provide, the report concludes.

At both the state and national level, this means creating an environment that supports business growth — like access to health care, child care, paid leave and other social infrastructure that support both entrepreneurs and their employees in the long run and allow businesses to compete on their services, not their benefits.

These are benefits that the market does not make available and affordable to small business owners or our employees, making it harder to hire and retain staff. Yes, this will require more revenue to pay for this, and we should look to the wealthiest and largest corporations to pay their fair share so that all can benefit. It has been the  wealthiest among us who have benefited from an inequitable economy and unfair market practices, so it is only fair that they participate in the fix.

Before COVID-19, there was a need for government to level the playing field for small businesses against ever consolidating corporations. During COVID-19, the immediate support only a government can provide was obvious. After COVID the need will remain. Small businesses owners understand this.

Local, state and federal officials should take the opportunity to design programs that would mean thriving local economies as we move from rescue to recovery. With a supermajority of small businesses supporting government involvement in stabilizing our economy, let’s not let this moment go to waste.