Small businesses are the backbone of our Nation, our Commonwealth, and our region's economy. Often described as the "Engine that moves America," small businesses make up over eighty-five percent of our Chambers' member companies. Unfortunately, right now, they are dealing with extreme and unprecedented challenges which are quickly becoming unsustainable.
It is clear we are facing not only a health crisis but also an economic crisis. While we are resilient and determined to overcome, we must have the courage of our elected leaders to make decisions that support and encourage the economic freedom that will enable recovery. Hampton Roads' 400-year history is a story of recovery and resilience. Together, we have successfully responded to major shocks — wars, epidemics, fires, floods, economic downturns, unemployment, and more. Our long experience in effectively dealing with adverse situations has wired us not only to survive challenging times but to come through them stronger than before. We will triumph once again but must set the conditions for success. It begins by smartly, but also expeditiously, re-opening businesses.
The steps taken to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus, while effective to a degree, have taken their toll on our regional small business owners. A recent nationwide survey conducted for the Association of Small Business Development Centers indicates that 73 percent of U.S. small businesses have experienced a substantial drop in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly the same percentage of business owners expect that demand will continue to decline. Seventy-four percent of businesses have decreased employee hours. But perhaps most concerning is 49 percent of U.S. small businesses say they can only survive one to two more months if they are not allowed to re-open in May. Another 22 percent said they could survive only three to four months. That’s almost three-quarters of small businesses at risk of shutting down if they are not allowed to resume operations soon. The bottom line is this, local small businesses that have been around for generations and that represent the life's work of many small business owners, and families are not going to survive if the Governor's Executive Order remains in place much longer. We must re-open Virginia's businesses.
Our chambers of commerce are doing everything in our power to help small businesses survive. We have collaborated to develop the most comprehensive guide in the region to assist businesses and made it available online at the outset of the crisis with daily updates provided through our social media platforms. We have partnered with other regional and state organizations like the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center and the Workforce Councils to provide real-time assistance to businesses in need. We’ve held virtual forums and educational seminars. And we've facilitated direct access to our elected officials so our members can hear directly from the decision-makers at the local, state and federal level.
Our chambers are pushing a transition to recovery. And developing resources to providing real-world solutions to the enormous challenges faced by our small businesses as they re-open, bring their employees back, reestablish their supply chain, and regain their customer base. We will continue to be the strongest advocates for businesses in the 757. We are unapologetic and laser-focused on issues that matter most to them.
Together we will defeat the common enemy and overcome the fear and hurdles of re-opening because it’s what Hampton Roads does best. It’s time to pivot to the positive. Ubi Concordia, Ibi Victoria, “Where there is unity, there is victory.”
Bryan K. Stephens
President & CEO
Hampton Roads Chamber
Robert S. McKenna
President & CEO
Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce