Missouri task force issues report on ways to help small businesses struggling because of pandemic

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 6:22 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - So you’re tired of dealing with all the problems brought about from the COVID-19 pandemic?

“Business owners are weary just like everyone else,” said Rusty Worley, the Executive Director of the Downtown Springfield Association.

That’s why in March of last year Missouri Governor Mike Parson put together a 10-member task force that toured the state on a public listening tour and spoke with experts about what the state could do to address the struggles of small businesses that continues into its second year because of COVID-19.

“As our state’s economy has recovered, it’s important to continue to support our small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy,” Parson said. “We appreciate the work of the Show Me Strong Recovery Task Force members and the opportunities they identified to better address the challenges small businesses face. Their efforts have produced thoughtful recommendations designed to benefit hardworking business owners statewide.”

Some of those recommendations include:

  • Improve childcare availability and affordability to aid working families
  • Expand and promote hospitality industry apprenticeships
  • Update and promote Missouri’s Fast Track program, an opportunity for people to receive financial aid in order to get training for better jobs
  • Streamline small business interaction with state agencies by creating a “One-Stop Shop” business portal so they can get all the information and resources they need from one place
  • Promote and enhance existing state programs and services to support women and minority-owned businesses

“The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our state in many ways, and Missouri small businesses are among those hardest hit,” said Anna Hui, the Chair of the Show Me Strong Recovery Task Force and Director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. “The Task Force represented a diverse array of public servants and business owners who worked hard to understand the difficulties everyday Missourians are facing. Our hope is these findings will be helpful in addressing the needs of business owners and securing a prosperous future.”

“I think the task force did a good job of calling out the challenges that our small businesses are facing right now,” said Worley. “Our business owners are stretched farther than they’ve ever been.”

“We’re trying to bounce back and that’s all we can do now,” added Missy Trapp, who became General Manager of Springfield’s Big Whiskey’s right as the pandemic hit.

The task force’s recommendations for supply chain help are of interest to Trapp because she never knows when a menu item might be affected.

“People always come here for our southwest egg rolls,” Trapp said. “But since COVID has happened we haven’t had them. So we actually had to do a menu change.”

The task force’s report also brings up providing more state resources such as grant money because hiring and maintaining a workforce is still a problem.

“I think the grant programs that the state offered were very helpful in the early stages of the pandemic,” Worley said. “So if the state can bring some resources to add to that, it will help us. We’re fortunate that we have a broad base of college students here but the way people consume their meals is different than it used to be. So I think businesses are going to have to continue to look at their delivery of services and things like are there opportunities to automate?”

“I had to start with a whole new staff after COVID because quite a few people left,” Tripp said of her 35 employees in the downtown location.

Big Whiskey’s, which is locally owned, actually expanded its number of restaurants during the pandemic and now has 13 locations in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Alabama.

“We’ve been like a family sending staff to other places that needed help,” Trapp said of the challenge in having enough employees. “I don’t think it’s ever going to be back to normal. I think this is what we’re going to have to deal with for a while.”

It will be up to Governor Parson to decide what to do with the task force’s recommendations.

And while the solutions are yet to be determined, there’s no doubt that the challenges are still there.

“It’s not an easy time to own a small business,” Worley said. “So it is important to acknowledge that they’re (the state government) listening and trying to bring some tools to the table.”

To learn more about the Show Me Strong Recovery Task Force or view its report of recommendations, visit https://ded2.mo.gov/show-me-strong-recovery-task-force.

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