A Whole New world - Part 2
Only the correct SMALL can be the next BIG.
Since my last blog posting in April of 2020, much has transpired in our reality. After a tumultuous 2020, and a rough start to 2021, it is a good time to reflect and take stock in the year that has been.
Covid-19 has impacted nearly every facet of our global human experience. It has led to social, economic, and political disruption on every continent. It has been experienced most severely at the local economic level, where small businesses have felt the brunt of an market stalls and a political environment in constant turmoil as the disease ravages on. Main Streets and small businesses have been a big part of this churn, and many have been tested and stressed to the very point of failure, others have evolved and risen to the moment. It has illuminated the very strengths and weaknesses of the localism movement.
In his March essay from Spring 2020, Dr. Richard Florida warned of the fragility of localism and the precarious life of small business in Main Street economies. He emphasized that priority should be taken to preserve and support these entities during this pandemic. I would agree that indeed our Main Street economies are fragile, particularly during the fallout of a pandemic. I also believe that a strong global economy depends first on strong local economies as a foundational part of the entire societal ecosystem. Unfortunately, a flaw with localism has also been a reaction of tribalism, and a willful ignorance of what it means to be a participant in a larger economic community. It is what happens when backs turn to embrace protectionism and individualism above all else. This idealism can be a fatal blow to small businesses as it creates and entirely new level of vulnerability to inevitable global forces. The Covid-19 crisis clearly illustrates this point.
When Covid-19 first appeared in our communities, small businesses reacted in essentially one of two ways. One reaction was to deny or minimize the public health crisis in general. Those businesses have not followed best practices and they have they pushed back against policies and mandates set in place to combat the pandemic spread. Usually as an argument, those small business state they can't be burdened by regulation or oversight in an already difficult environment. However, by taking this stand they have placed themselves in a precarious position. In order to protect their own interests, they have turned their backs on the interests of others in this matter of public health. The focus on their own self-interest as a struggling small business has put their very customers at risk to suffer and entire markets have stagnated through the political divisiveness it creates. It is in this way, a denial of the larger picture and a rejection to the global connection has compounded the problems of the pandemic at the local level. Local economies are now in the center of some of these negative tribal reactions and have become the political battlegrounds for Covid politics.
On the flip side are the businesses who have adapted to a Covid-19 world. They have increased their odds of survival and solidified their places in their local communities by looking at the larger picture. These businesses still operate with a local focus, but they have found ways to evolve their operations to better provide goods and services among the challenges of the pandemic. The crisis provided an opportunity to embrace new technologies or evolve business models. Some businesses have completely changed their focus and services to remain competitive in a corrosive marketplace, where constant tension of handling pandemic issues wears on all. Many have strengthened their roles and relationships in their communities through generous charitable acts, or by showing sacrifice to better serve their communities and customers. They have embraced policies and practices that support public health interest and in doing so, show a deeper commitment to the well being of their customers and clients. It is by looking at the larger picture, instead of focusing inward, that these small businesses have adapted to better serve their local markets and leverage their localism in a forward looking way. These entrepreneurs are connected to, and acknowledge, the larger picture of the global economy, and understand where their places are in participating in such a global view and many have found real opportunity, even in this difficult time.
To be a part of the next BIG thing, small businesses must not simply find a way to exist, but small businesses must also understand how they are intertwined and connected to a larger world. Small business and localism isn’t a simple entitlement. Customers or clients are not obligated to patronize a small business if they simply open a door. Businesses must be accountable to their communities and exist not just to serve their own local interests, but do so with full perspective of how they relate to the larger global realities they are plugged into.