AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
Last spring, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the federal government threw small businesses a much-needed lifeline to stay open through its Payroll Protection Plan. Those funds were used to help businesses keep their employees working and to help pay for operating expenses while they were either closed or operating at much reduced levels. And that funding helped the vast majority of small businesses survive.
While the federal government was optimistic that the shutdown of business and industry was going to be short-term, that has not been the case.
Today, nationally we are still seeing big and small businesses disappearing from the economic landscape and thousands of people losing their jobs because states are mandating the closure of bars and restaurants and restricting customers to those businesses. Business owners are making the hard decision that it is easier to close their doors rather than continue to hemorrhage with what little cash they still have. The economic impact of COVID-19 across the country is devastating.
And those economic woes are being played out daily by North Dakota businesses as well. Unlike last spring, Gov. Doug Burgum has not mandated the closing of any businesses at this time. But that doesn’t mean that small businesses across the state aren’t struggling financially.
The question that needs to be answered now is, “will many of the businesses in North Dakota’s small and large towns still be here a year from now?”
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is, “No.” North Dakota will be looking at a completely different retail landscape a year from now unless the state can find a way to help businesses keep their doors open.
North Dakota has the ability to use the federal CARES Act money, as well as its Legacy Fund, to provide the state’s small businesses with funding to keep their doors open just as the federal government did with the Payroll Protection Plan.
The state is already using some of those CARES Act funds to encourage oil companies to frac and complete wells, as well as to increase funding for schools, healthcare systems, and city and county government operations.
Obviously, the state believes it is important to maintain our schools and government operations.
But if the state believes that it is a priority to use CARES Act funding to help the oil and gas industry, one would surely think that the state would also believe that it needs to provide financial help to keep small town businesses like grocery stores, restaurants and bars, pharmacies, hardware stores, gas stations, and even newspapers, financially solvent during this pandemic.