Big companies start out as smaller ones. While Republicans block Biden’s nominee to the SBA, small businesses are dying. Can we afford to lose them?

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Photo by Gene Gallin on Unsplash.

The ghosts of COVID-19- past, present and future- have haunted small and mid-sized business owners with a dread vengeance over these past 18-months.

That so many small businesses are now hanging on by the merest thread should be of no unpleasant surprise to anyone. Plenty of small businesses have gone under during the past year, too- and that isn’t a surprise either, even if it is unpleasant.

The real surprise, and the least pleasant of all, might be the one waiting for the U.S. economy in 5 years, or in 10.

Because the small businesses dying on the vine today can’t turn into the great corporate success stories of tomorrow. The next Whole Foods, the next Uber, Costco or Chipotle; all could soon be gone forever; snuffed out before they could blossom.

The worst thing is that it doesn’t have to be this way; it isn’t too late. What small businesses need more than anything right now is time; time to rebuild their businesses, regrow their cashflow.

The COVID-19 relief money to buy that precious time waits at the Small Business Administration, held up by Senate Republicans refusing to fill an important leadership post at the SBA.

And time is running out; much more so for small businesses than for their larger competitors.

When the pandemic first hit, large corporations were able to switch their business models from in-person to virtual far more easily, mostly by doing less of one and more of the other. Not so many smaller operations.

Some major corporations, like Amazon, seemed tailor-made for the COVID-19 crisis and its mitigation. But while Jeff Bezos was able to realize his lifelong dream of going into space, small business owners all over the U.S. have had to tighten their belts, work endless hours, and go to extreme lengths just to keep the lights on.

Heading into a holiday season that should have been a merry one, U.S. small businesses are instead facing even more hardship. A labor shortage, supply chain issues, and rising inflation are stretching small business owners to the breaking point- and many were already at the breaking point.

Large corporations can deal with these three new problems more easily. They can often afford to pay more or at least offer better benefits to attract employees. Massive buying power gives large companies better supply chain leverage; they can spread rising inflation out to a wider range of products so that it isn’t as noticeable.

Small business owners are, again, drawing the short end of the stick as they can do none of these things.

Large corporations have other advantages, too. They employ teams of corporate accountants, tax attorneys, and government liaisons who make sure- make quite sure- the company receives as much assistance from the government as is available.

All small business owners have is the Small Business Administration.

Throughout the pandemic, the SBA has worked hard to distribute relief funds earmarked by lawmakers to help small businesses cope with COVID-19. The SBA has done so in spite of suffering from a labor crisis of their own.

Since March, the post of SBA deputy administrator has needlessly sat empty. President Joe Biden’s nominee for the post, prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dilawar Syed has for eight long months been prevented from helping struggling small businesse by Senate Republicans blocking his confirmation.

While their reasons for doing so have changed, none have held up to much scrutiny. Obstructionism of a Biden nominee for the sake of it is the most charitable explanation; religious discrimination against Mr. Syed, who happens to be a Muslim-American and a well respected member of the Asian-American community, is the least charitable.

With Dilawar Syed’s experience at the SBA, much more could have been accomplished for U.S. small business owners over the past 8 months.

The SBA has done great work for small American companies before. That it is being prevented from doing so again at full capacity, at a time when American businesses need it most, is reflecting poorly on the Republican Senators who haven’t even allowed the confirmation to come to a vote.

After the economic downturn in 2008, U.S. small businesses were in a fair amount of trouble, too.

Were it not for the SBA- and incidentally, the efforts of Dilawar Syed in his then-capacity with the Obama Administration- many more American small businesses would have perished post-recession after 2008.

In 2021, the situation faced by small business owners is even more dire. In many cases, these businesses represent more than the blood, sweat and tears of the people who built them; more even that the millions of Americans small businesses employ nationwide.

Many small businesses represent the American dream. These businesses are often the repository of all the investments, college funds, retirement savings accounts- an entire family’s resources, poured out over generations.

American ingenuity is American culture. From all over the world, talented entrepreneurs come to the U.S. with the dream of starting a business. From these small operations, these family businesses and fledgling new companies, will grow the next generation of Microsofts, Amazons and Apples.

Or not.

The U.S. is well known the world over for its corporate giants; but everyone from Pepsi to Pizza Hut had to start somewhere. Without organizations like the SBA, the U.S. Corporate Nursery (TM) would have graduated far fewer alums.

Without talented people like Dilawar Syed in leadership at the SBA, the same thing is likely to happen.

Right now, the next Nike, the next Uber, the Next Great Big Idea might be in danger of perishing in the field; right before harvest time.

The American economy and the companies it empowers are the 8th wonder of the known world. Many of these great American companies, these inspirational and aspirational success stories and transformative ideas, have been brought to this nation from other shores. Immigrants to the U.S. have been responsible for the some of the most incredible advancements of the last two centuries.

The U.S. economy has performed countless miracles since the industrial age. U.S. companies, innovators and inventions have changed the face of the modern world.

Holding back the next generation is worse than senseless; it’s worse than wasteful. It is worse even than un-American.

It is the anti-American dream; the exact opposite of the amazing U.S. corporate spring-board which has given humankind everything from the personal computer to commercial air travel.

While Republican Senators block the confirmation of an imminently qualified candidate to lead at the SBA, and small businesses continue to go under one by one, other nations aren’t as short-sighted.

Elected leaders all around the world know that business owners are racing against a clock of variants, closures and supply-chain hardships.

Without Dilawar Syed, the U.S. and the Small Business Administration is that much more behind the curve; and American small businesses are far worse off than they would be if the SBA had a full leadership roster.

Struggling small businesses still afloat have managed to stay alive all these many months since COVID-19 first hit.

Aren’t they worth saving?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)