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Opinion: Downtown small businesses face challenges with grit

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Running a small business requires many qualities: vision, industry training, communication skills, understanding financial statements, the willingness to take out the trash and clean the bathroom – and the list goes on. But one trait that has been on full display across center city the past three years has been grit.

Psychologist and author Angela Duckworth has stated that “grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

When the pandemic hit, downtown entrepreneurs creatively found new ways to deliver their services. When supply chains evaporated, they identified alternative sources. When an already tight labor market ratcheted down to a historic low, they rallied their teams and reorganized their workflow.

Just when forecasts appeared to be sunnier for 2023, new storm clouds formed. Inflation and interest rates remain stubbornly high. Most prognosticators project a recession in the coming months. And it feels like a construction project is on every block.

An impressively high number of small-business owners will persevere against those headwinds.

Three common challenges for local entrepreneurs in 2023 will be capacity, connection and cash flow. Here are some resources available to make the lives of small-business owners just a little bit easier.

Capacity
The number of hours in a day won’t stretch beyond 24 and the mental headspace of an owner is finite. So, securing external assistance is vital to long-term sustainability.

The downtown Efactory offers a one-stop shop for classes, mentoring, talent development and networking. It allows businesses of all sizes to punch above its weight with access to new perspectives. Its flexible coworking spaces and proximity to the Jordan Valley Innovation Center, Brick City and Missouri State University students and faculty create an inspiring culture.

Also, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce has a long history of business advocacy, economic development and workforce cultivation. Its talent attraction initiative, The Network for Young Professionals, and GO CAPS partnerships with Springfield Public Schools and 10 area school districts generate a pipeline to grow the next generation of workers and business leaders.

Connection
Small-business owners are experts in many areas but are often uncertain on how to break through the noise of today’s digital media to meaningfully engage with customers.

The Downtown Springfield Association hosted a digital workshop in February to interact with its members on tapping into its website, weekly emails and social media platforms. It also shared information on relevant apps and marketing tools.

A wide variety of community events hosted across Springfield offer businesses opportunities to link with targeted demographics. This runs the gamut of neighborhood block parties to iconic regional traditions such as Artsfest.

Active communication with stakeholders is even more important during temporary disruptions like street construction. The recent projects on Jefferson and Grant avenues reinforce the need for collaborations among businesses, the city and its contractors to provide the latest information on routing and parking.

Cash flow
Funding is a lifeline for small businesses to navigate through seasonal sales and to fuel growth. In a higher interest rate environment, it is even more important.

The Springfield Finance and Development Corp. has extended over $3 million in gap financing to center city businesses since 1997. The consortium of 13 local banks is designed as a flexible tool alongside conventional small-business loans.

The city of Springfield has two commercial loan programs – Micro Enterprise and Business Development. Micro Enterprise is focused on small businesses with five employees or fewer and offers an interest rate of 5%, with interest-only payments in the first two years and a term of 12 years. Business Development is geared toward larger projects with a current interest rate of 3% with negotiable amortization up to 20 years. Both programs require job creation within the first two years.

When – not if – the challenges of capacity, connections and cash flow arrive at the doorstep of small businesses, owners should be reassured they are not alone. Springfield has an established network of public and private organizations to help them succeed.

Back to Duckworth, in her book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” she concludes: “At various points, in big ways and small, we get knocked down. If we stay down, grit loses. If we get up, grit prevails.”

Rusty Worley is the executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association. He can be reached at rusty@itsalldowntown.com.

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