With layoffs, salary cuts, and a slew of other tactics being implemented to keep the doors open, small business owners struggle to boost morale within their organizations. Whether they know it or not, communication is key to combat the pessimism.
From business to government, people are working to embrace this necessary open dialogue, including Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) As chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the senator has a daunting task ahead of her: helping small businesses recover.
Last week Sen. Landrieu held several events in north Louisiana to discuss recent economic challenges affecting the area such as manufacturing plant closures. She held the committee’s first hearing in Shreveport, the third-largest city in Louisiana. Not only did she address concerns from small business owners but also provided an update on the committee’s effort to help Louisiana weather the economic downturn. The senator took a moment during those hectic days to speak with BlackEnterprise.com about Louisiana’s current business landscape (which is faring better than one may think), what small businesses across the country can expect to see from the Small Business Administration (SBA), and why she’s brought in reinforcements to help black-owned businesses.
How important is it for the government to assist small business owners in reviving the economy?
It’s very important. In some areas of [Louisiana], the economic downturn is affecting more areas than others. For example, the Pilgrims Pride plant in Farmerville, Louisiana, is on the verge of losing 1,300 jobs. And you’re talking about a parish with a population of 24,000. And in addition to the 1,300, there are chicken growers that have home assets and equity in jeopardy. And in Shreveport, the GM plant is losing 2,400 employees to now employ 800.
What’s happening within the automobile industry has ramifications in so many different places beyond Detroit.
Absolutely. The auto industry in Louisiana is in crisis … And in addition to plants, they have hundreds of car dealerships and related stores that are becoming part of the unemployed downward spiral.
How is the state’s economy doing compared with the country as a whole?
While the economy is strong in Louisiana, we are not immune to the current economic downturn. And we find this out by listening to small businesses and trying to identify their needs. The economy is stronger than average, particularly in southeast Louisiana [as they] continue to work on a post-Katrina economy. Insurance companies’ business is up; people are investing and building. For example, the Lafouche-Terrebonne unemployment rate is 3.5%, unheard of in this country. We’re seeing 3.4% to as high as 16% in other parts of the state.
What are you and the committee’s expectations for the SBA’s Karen Mills as she takes the helm?
She’s going to be focused on unfreezing the credit market on Main Street and throughout the country, which is going to get done by reducing the fees and regulations and expanding the guarantees. And we’ll help her in making sure that as the credit market gives money, it trickles down into these communities.
What are you all have planned for black-owned businesses?
Don Cravins Jr., a former Louisiana senator, is working with us to pull a strategy together. And we [realize the power of] women-owned and minority-owned businesses, so we want to pay special attention to these businesses which are growing significantly.