Besides having to worry about maintaining a steady customer-base, expanding services to draw in new clients, finding ways to meet (hopefully exceed) quarterly, annual financial targets, and a thousand-and-one other details that keep small business owners awake thinking from dusk to dawn – perhaps what entrepreneurs fear most is a long-drawn-out recession.
Getting through an economic recession is the biggest test, a defining make-or-break moment for small businesses. The bigger the recession (the last huge one was in 2008-2010), the more small businesses will fail; and the casualties mean not just closing down – it means a dream that ends for owners, an establishment that customers love but can no longer go to; and in some cases financial ruin, or at the very least, tens of thousands of dollars in investment and savings gone.
The COVID-19 pandemic came swiftly, unexpectedly; and the stay-at-home orders was completely unprecedented. Normally, in recessions, businesses can at least bring in some revenues. But a complete shutdown of the economy meant for many non-essential businesses, zero revenues. That means, business have had to count on reserves (maybe four-months, if lucky) to get through the drought, which savings already was hard to come by given the high cost of operating a small business in Hawaii.
PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans is the federal response to help small businesses stay afloat and retain employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, or to businesses, more aptly called, the COVID-19 economic depression. PPP initially was part of the CARES Act, which was the first round. Then in late April, because funding for PPP dried up so quickly, an additional fund, or second round was made available for small businesses.
Accessing PPP has been difficult. While it was designed for small businesses, there were widespread abuse in the first round, as large publicly traded businesses ascertained PPP loans, leaving less for small businesses. Hawaii has had some disadvantages to accessing PPP with regard to time disadvantage, the e-Tran system, and one-time bulk upload requirements.
But according to a massive joint University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization (UHERO) and Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii survey of business owners in the state, PPP will not be enough — one in four (about 24 percent) Hawaii businesses is expected to close if there is no additional financial assistance, even after receiving federal PPP loans. And 34 percent of those surveyed say they anticipate needing to make more staff cuts in order to survive.
No one really knows how deep this economic depression will be or how long it will last. The extent of business casualties will probably be known only years after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
The good news is that Hawaii has done remarkable in curbing COVID-19 relative to other states; and as of May 10th, some businesses are allowed to reopen.
Some businesses allowed to reopen under the governor’s new order include: shopping malls and retailers (except for Maui County), non-food agricultural companies, including florists, auto dealerships and car washes, pet grooming services, health care and social assistance, including elective surgery, nonprofits that were previously not considered “essential,” repair services, including surfboard repair. Meanwhile, a number of organizations that must still remain fully or partially closed include bars, restaurant dine-in areas and shopping mall food courts, attractions and places of worship.
Others will be able to reopen in gradual stages.
What could help businesses once economy reopens
As other businesses reopen, experts say changes to the economy must be implemented to maximize recovery even after stay-at-home orders have been lifted.
- the state needs to increase testing for COVID-19 and follow up with comprehensive tracing for those who have contact with the virus.
- restaurants that eventually reopen for sit down dining, might have to reduce the number of tables and keep tables apart by at least six feet; and that everyone wear masks except when eating.
- tourists will need to be tested before they come to Hawaii.
- employers should be responsible to certify and assure the Hawaii Department of Health that all employees have been tested and are free of the coronavirus. If cleared, companies can be issued “PASSED” signs much like the DOH does for restaurants which pass the health inspection.
- retailers may want to require temperature check on customers entering their establishments
- a system be developed for the creation of COVID-19 Clearance Cards.
- mandate that masks be worn in public.
These are only suggestions and it is up to our communities to decide which ones are acceptable, considering the right balance of personal privacy and public health.
How the public can help
The biggest help to businesses will come from the general public. Now that small businesses are starting to reopen, if possible, the public ought to continue to buy and utilize the services of small businesses. Spending at businesses of all sizes will be helpful to the economy. But many small businesses that were deemed non-essential, closed for close to two months (while other big businesses were allowed to stay open) will need patrons even more. It’s a critical time for small businesses. They are on life-support and could use your support. Please consider shopping at and supporting local small businesses first.