By Fred Gaffney
For most local chambers of commerce, small businesses make up the majority of our membership. So, we are keenly aware of how vital they are to our local communities and economy. May is designated Small Business Month to highlight and celebrate America’s entrepreneurs and startups to the general public.
Small businesses provide a diversity of choice for consumers. Ethnic restaurants, coffee roasters, bicycle shops, and other locally-owned businesses contribute to the vibrancy of downtowns. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that people recognized the importance of supporting these businesses.
Analyses show that the area of greatest economic concentration in many municipalities is in the downtown. The central business district often has the highest density of employment and tax income. And, as service-oriented small businesses often cannot function in a remote environment, their economic benefits are stable. Infrastructure maintenance is also more cost-effective in high-density areas than with urban and retail sprawl.
Entrepreneurs also provide innovation. Passion and determination blend to create new technologies, services and products. As employees were displaced during the pandemic, some were inspired to be more in control of their futures by pursuing business ideas. These growing ventures provide new job opportunities where people feed off of the energy of their employer and often feel most connected to their work.
Owners of small businesses recognize the importance of supporting their communities. They sponsor youth sports, support fundraisers, and are engaged in efforts to enhance the areas where their businesses are located. In fact, many chambers of commerce were founded by a group of small business owners that recognized they could be more effective by working together.
So, while the announcement of a new major employer coming to an area often gets front page headlines, retaining existing businesses and encouraging entrepreneurs is critical to economic vitality. Local chambers of commerce partner with other organizations to provide a variety of programs and services to support small businesses and innovators.
The needs of all businesses are diverse, but small businesses typically rely on their chamber of commerce more often. Owners are not necessarily well versed in all areas of operating a business, such as finance, human resources and marketing. Chambers offer programs directly in these areas, but also serve as a clearinghouse to meet business needs. It is important to maintain connections with elected officials, agencies and economic development partners so that we can connect businesspeople with the appropriate resources.
As it is important for small business owners to share information with one another, so is it of value for chamber professionals. We are fortunate to have a strong network of local chambers across the Commonwealth, facilitated by our statewide association, the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals, and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
This network has gotten even stronger through the pandemic as we supported colleagues and shared information. Many of these professionals are as passionate about their work as the members that they serve. Together, the chamber of commerce industry is well positioned to continue its important work of supporting and encouraging local employers across Pennsylvania.
Fred Gaffney is president of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce and board chair of the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals