For Governing, Senior Researcher Kennedy Smith, with Ryan Coonerty, explains how local governments can leverage American Rescue Plan funds to help the small businesses in their communities. The pandemic, but also years of online and big-box retailers’ predatory tactics have decimated independent businesses and downtowns across the U.S. These businesses need affordable commercial space more than ever. Federal stimulus funds offer the chance for local governments to help fill that need.
“After being largely abandoned by Washington as their economies collapsed, local governments are finally getting help from the federal government in the form of more than $130 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan. Of course, the first priority for city, county and tribal governments will be to restore basic services and support their most vulnerable residents. But after these immediate needs are met, the federal money offers an unprecedented opportunity to lay the foundation for long-term equitable economic vitality.
There is a dizzying array of opportunities for local governments, from improving broadband infrastructure to launching small-business training programs. But it is the built environment that needs smart, innovative investment. Downtowns and their small businesses have been decimated not only by the pandemic but also by decades of exploitive tactics of online and big-box retailers.
Time is of the essence in repairing this. In many places, pre-pandemic commercial rents already had escalated beyond the reach of many small businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this vast divide: According to an April report by the Federal Reserve, roughly 200,000 more businesses permanently closed in 2020 than in average years. Businesses owned by women and minorities have been particularly hard hit: At the end of 2020, 77 percent of Black-owned businesses rated their financial condition as “poor” or “fair,” versus 54 percent of white-owned businesses.”
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