The true compassion of a society is not measured by how many citizens receive government aid, but rather by how many do not need it.
That insightful sentiment was the vision of the late Jack Kemp, former Congressman, candidate for Vice President and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary. Kemp believed that government ought to empower, encourage, and never stand in the way of entrepreneurship and one’s self-determination.
While many politicians don’t get this, most small business owners do. They want to start and grow their business and live their American dream. Most aren’t seeking aid from the government. Instead, they tend to be attracted to communities that encourage our growth.
Kemp believed that government ought to empower, encourage, and never stand in the way of entrepreneurship and one’s self-determination.
In normal times, most entrepreneurs use savings or loans from friends, family, investors or local banks to finance their businesses. They started a business because they had a dream, enjoyed the challenge, and wanted the sense of independence. So, they voluntarily take on such personal financial risk.
But during the government-imposed Covid-19 lock-downs that shut down every business except those deemed to be “life-sustaining,” those normal times ended. The doors were ordered shut at barber shops, salons, tourist attractions, antique and novelty stores, jewelers, karate studios, gyms, catering halls, event venues, bars, and more. The owners and employees at these businesses were left stranded, with no idea if or when they’d open again.
But that did not stop owners of so many small businesses from continuing to take on personal risks, even when the government had made those risks unbearable.
The owners of the Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bars, for example, paid employees’ medical insurance for months and even helped with Christmas gifts for employees and their families. They did this despite little money coming in and most employees not being needed for the take-out service they were able to do. And they didn’t leave it at that. In an attempt to get their employees working again as soon as possible, they installed plexiglass barriers and retrofitted their HVAC systems to top-of-the-line standards to protect staff and customers.
The family that owns United Sports Training Center in Downingtown similarly spent hard-to-come-by dollars and time upgrading their facility, training staff, and buying protective equipment. They believed that if they got their business ready to meet health standards they would be able to bring their employees back.
The Pa. Department of Health never noted either business’ extraordinary efforts. No one from the Wolf administration was willing to learn from their experiences and they were given no opportunity to open sooner.
But government is a cold and unimaginative organism. The Pa. Department of Health never noted either business’ extraordinary efforts. No one from the Wolf administration was willing to learn from their experiences and they were given no opportunity to open sooner. These brave Pennsylvania business owners wanted to do the right thing, but the government had given its orders.
These are just two of the many businesses which had owners who took extraordinary steps to support and protect employees and customers during the last year. And, we at the Chester County Chamber know that many more wanted to do similar things, but they lacked the resources or noted that no one in the department of health would reward good behavior.
With their ingenuity and willingness to personally bear immense risk cast aside, some business owners eventually looked for government aid. Many applied for Paycheck Protection Program loans to pay their employees despite remaining closed. They had nowhere else to turn.
Yet, today, would anyone doubt the answer if small business owners were asked this question: Would you prefer another PPP loan or the ability to run your business? Almost all would prefer to forego government aid for the opportunity to operate without government interference.
Instead of thinking up new ways to dole out taxpayer funded loans and grants to small businesses owners, shouldn’t they be thinking up ways to ensure businesses don’t need them?
Wouldn’t it be more compassionate for our elected officials to focus on ensuring businesses owners and workers have that liberty? Wouldn’t it be more compassionate to offer liability protection and to reassure the public as we approach herd immunity, rather than perpetuate fear? Instead of thinking up new ways to dole out taxpayer funded loans and grants to small businesses owners, shouldn’t they be thinking up ways to ensure businesses don’t need them? Instead of celebrating the paltry aid sent to struggling communities, true compassion—true leadership—would be to focus on putting local business owners and citizens back in charge of their own fate.
True compassion is apologizing, pledging to never, ever lock down our businesses and citizens again, and helping us get back to normal.
Guy Ciarrocchi is the President & CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry. Find them @ChescoChamber.