Maine’s small businesses, particularly restaurants and retail, can face an uphill struggle balancing the overhead costs of running a brick and mortar store with competition from national chains and online retailers. More than heart, blood, sweat and tears, it takes community buy-in or, rather, community buying.
Here on Mount Desert Island, seasonal ice cream and t-shirt shops take a lot of criticism from year-round residents who wish for a greater variety of stores here. To get them, and to keep the ones we have, we have to support these local businesses.
According to a 2010 report from Michigan State University, small local businesses cumulatively are the largest employers nationwide, creating two out of every three new jobs. Roughly half of American workers are employed by small businesses. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees created 1.9 million net jobs in 2015, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. Firms with fewer than 20 employees experienced the biggest gains, adding over 1.1 million net jobs.
In 2015, Maine had 145,536 small businesses — 99.3 percent of all businesses in the state. Those businesses employed 284,658 people or 56.9 percent of the private workforce.
Dollars spent at a locally owned business are more likely to stay close to home. According to one analysis conducted in west Michigan, of every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $73 remained in the local economy. That $73 went to wages, donations to local causes, taxes to fund municipal services and purchases of goods and services from other local businesses. The money circulates and re-circulates in the area, which can in turn create more jobs and build the local tax base.
At national chains, revenue is more likely to flow to headquarters out of state. Local businesses are rooted where they stand.
Small business owners and employees help power area chambers of commerce, working to support each other and the community. They boost sports teams, Scout troops, food drives and Christmas gift programs as donors and volunteers. Shopping online may save a few bucks, but it’s unlikely to generate the same kind of value.
The local business scene is part of what makes a place unique and reflect the interests and character of its people. The owners of small businesses excel at personal service and injecting a personal touch. Imagine if every town’s Main Street was lined with the same mix of shops and restaurants. There’d be no reason to take a Sunday day trip and explore another community’s downtown, no thrill of discovering an eclectic little shop or hip lunch spot. A thriving small business scene is a boon for locals and an enticement for visitors from away.
Voting doesn’t just happen at the polls; it happens every time you open your wallet. Leverage that purchasing power to support the causes, products, businesses and people you believe in.