September 21, 2020
VP, ESG and EHS, Devon Energy
Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Small businesses are often viewed as the backbone of the economy, but many are struggling to stay afloat in the current circumstances. As the world continues its fight against COVID-19, communities are working to move forward with resiliency, even in the face of business uncertainty.
In the first session of the U.S. Chamber Federation Leadership Conference, Neil Bradley, EVP and chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spoke with experts about how business leadership can support their communities through the pandemic.
Government Institutions Must Build Trust in Small Businesses
Small businesses value their freedom and flexibility, and as a result are "reluctant to embrace government," said Maria Contreras-Sweet, former administrator of the Small Business Association (SBA). However, now more than ever, they need the support of government institutions to guide them through this time.
"What we need to do is make sure that we can build trust again in small businesses, that they can rely on the governmental institutions to truly be helpful to them," Contreras-Sweet said.
She added that small businesses need reliable consultation and reliable sources of information, which they can get from these institutions if they are willing to trust them.
In the Face of Business Uncertainty, Owners Should 'Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst'
No one — not even leading medical experts or business professionals — know for certain how the future will look in the face of the pandemic. This business uncertainty is especially overwhelming for small business owners who rely on their companies to live.
"You've heard that old saying, 'Business prefers a yes, and they can even accept a no, but the maybes kill them," said Hector Barreto, former administrator of the SBA. "A lot of us feel like we're living in 'maybes,' depending on where we're at."
However, despite this uncertainty, it's important for entrepreneurs to push forward while preparing for obstacles they might face along the way.
"I think something that we've all learned [is] it's incumbent upon us to hope for the best but plan for the worst," said Barreto. "All businesses hate uncertainty, and we've never had as much uncertainty … as we're all living through right now."
Underrepresented Entrepreneurs Must Advocate for Access to Capital
Contreras-Sweet noted venture capital is concentrated in three states (California, Massachusetts and New York) and only 25 zip codes. Additionally, women only get 2% to 4% of that venture capital.
"I believe that if we advocate to make sure that women and people of color and everybody in rural America also can access capital, that would be a sea change and encourage resiliency," Contreras-Sweet said.
Barreto added that Latinx companies represent 4 million enterprises and $700 billion in revenue every year, and demographers think those numbers could double every five years. Additionally, Latina women in particular are starting businesses five times faster than any other group.
"We want to keep that momentum going," Barreto said. "If we can help them get more contracts through the government or through corporate America, that is critically important."
Business Leadership Should Support Local Work in the Fight Against COVID
Carl Garner, Ph.D., VP of regulatory affairs at Eli Lilly, noted the importance of creating an environment that supports innovative pharmaceutical companies. For example, Eli Lilly has put together an insulin value program that offers insulin for $35 a month to anyone in the U.S. with commercial or non-commercial insurance.
"Leverage those types of things to help you out and to help your communities as we get through this together," Garner said.
Additionally, Michael Ybarra, VP of advocacy and strategic alliance at PhRMA, encouraged members of the community to get involved in and share clinical trials for the COVID vaccine, so we can speed up the process.
"I would encourage everyone to look into clinical trials [and] share it with your networks, because the more people we have participating, the quicker we'll get an answer," he said.
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