Commentary: Recovery Requires Main Street

In one way or another, this pandemic has impacted everyone. If you suffered the loss of a loved one and were denied the chance to say goodbye or to feel the comfort of community, you are exhausted. If you are a laid-off worker, wondering if your job will come back and how you are going to make ends meet, you are exhausted. If you are retired and are watching your nest egg erode or if you are a parent and have witnessed the disappointment as a child’s birthday, graduation or wedding pass without the customary celebration, you too are exhausted.

We need to pause and recognize the mental heaviness we all feel now before we can move on to something brighter. When we emerge from this crisis, if we have created a new normal where everybody does their part, there is reason for hope. It is abundantly clear that the three-legged stool of government, private sector and nonprofits need to work in concert with one another to shore up the economy. Government has to work for all people. We need an infusion of jobs, subsidies and access to reasonably priced debt for local businesses.

Our new normal has to work for Main Street as well as Wall Street. We need to rethink our mistaken belief that bigger is better. Large businesses only employ about 38% of the private sector workforce. Small businesses employ 53%, and more than 95 percent of them have fewer than 10 employees.

Wall Street businesses generally have access to capital markets. Think of them as having a rich uncle who is there to help in a crunch. But most of us don’t have a rich uncle to fall back on.

Many of the people in small businesses — the owners of our hair salons and barber shops, our doughnut stores and diners — are much like the vast majority of Americans who have little more than $1,000 in savings. These are people who get up early every day and work hard. We need to inject cash and liquidity into their operations to stabilize them so they rebound. We need to grant them some level of respite in order for them to reopen, re-staff and remain viable contributors to our local communities.

It is a time to rethink our priorities. A recent story dominating the news about our food supply drives home the enormity of this life event for me. While record numbers of families wait in food lines, large commercial farmers are destroying their crops and euthanizing their hogs. Why is that? Because since the 1970s, we have put policies in place that favor big over small. We are overly reliant on big commercial farms, meat packing and food processing plants, and distribution systems that are currently broken. At the same time, small farms and local butcher shops have become virtually obsolete. I’m not suggesting that we upend the agribusiness apple cart or any other industry. I am simply saying, let’s be measured. I am suggesting we create balance and understand how systems function.

We need to start with understanding the building blocks to local neighborhoods and what it takes for local communities to thrive: businesses, nonprofits and government must be willing and able to work in concert with one another. Let’s challenge the structures that reward big over small, not just in agribusiness but in many businesses, including banking. We need strong local systems as well as regional and national ones, and they need to work in collaboration.

For me, hope lies in knowing what I can do and what we can do collectively. For a community bank like Midwest BankCentre, local matters. By banking locally with us, $95 out of every $100 in deposits stays in our communities.

During this time of crisis, our teams have worked tirelessly to help nearly 1,100 small businesses secure Paycheck Protection Program loans quickly so when the economy reopens, they will be ready to serve our community. 

Let’s be there for them. Let’s shop in their stores and dine in their restaurants.

My deepest hope as we get to the other side of this life event is that we see the importance of relationships, we feel the power of connections and we realize the value of investing in our local communities. Together, we have the power to jumpstart our economy.

Originally Posted in the St. Louis Business Journal on 5/29/20

Orvin Kimbrough is chairman and CEO of Midwest BankCentre.

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