Michigan small businesses learn to survive — and hope

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Michigan’s small businesses, buffeted by ill national economic winds, are showing that many know how to survive — and hope.
Several recent indicators reflect that many of Michigan’s small businesses are optimistic that they can remain and grow.
A quarterly survey conducted by the Small Business Association of Michigan called the Small Business Barometer survey, released in July, showed definite signs of optimism.
Conclusions from the survey include that for the first time since 2000, sales have increased.
The SBAM Web site also boasts that the survey found: “Small business owners’ positive expectations for the future performance of their business operations are at the highest level since the second quarter of 2001.”
“I feel an optimism for the future,” said SBAM Vice President of Communications Mike Rogers. “Small Businesses owners are inherently optimistic, and we want to keep an upbeat focus on the future.”
Even with the images on television saying that the economy is hurting, some say that it is not hurting business at all.
Marlett City Manager Dale Kerbyson explained that his town is “feeling some stress with the slumping economy,” but he doesn’t believe that it has hurt Marlett.
On the other hand, in Columbiaville, a village in northern Lapeer County, Village Clerk and Administrator Denise Dupack has another story.
“I’ve lived here since 1976 and seen plenty of things go,” Dupack said. “Small businesses have been in trouble in Columbiaville since five years ago when the main bank in town moved out.”
“Since there is not a bank in town, people are driving to Lapeer to cash their checks, and then they end up grocery shopping there, too,” she said. “We are looking for a way to rebuild downtown.”
One former Lapeer shop owner, who closed her store last September, was upset about the condition small businesses are in at this time.
“You don’t get a break,” said the owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The overhead got to be too much and we were forced out.”
She said she thinks things will get worse for small business owners because they “can’t compete wage wise, and every time a big store moved in, we lost customers.”
Nancy Marshall, former owner of eAnnie’s Dresser in Lapeer experienced the same thing. She explained that when the store opened in October 2000, things were “going great.” Her women’s clothing store was forced out of business last month because after Sept. 11, business came to a “screeching halt,” Marshall said.
Even though she says she “did not recover from Sept. 11,” she did have some advice to give small businesses. “As long as the small business has a market niche and a strong business in their target market, they will do OK.”
Other people of Lapeer also mirrored that optimistic attitude.
Patricia Lucas, executive director of the Lapeer Development Corporation, explained that she is optimistic about Lapeer’s small businesses. She said her corporation tries to help small businesses in many ways, from job training with Mott Community College, to tax incentives and small-business planning.
“Hopefully, things will continue to get better,” Lucas said.
In Monroe County, optimism is also a common theme. Rep. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, who holds an economics degree from Albion College, said, “Small businesses are the backbone of the economy.”
More employees are in small businesses than any other business and he is a “huge supporter” of them, Richardville said.
He said that even with the “3 percent downturn in economy, they will overcome this. There is no question that it is going to get better.”
Yaeger Shoes in Monroe County has been around since 1846 and the store has weathered many economic downturns. “The past year has been a bit tough because people are not willing to spend,” said Mike Yaeger, fourth-generation owner.
Even though he expressed some negative sentiments, Yaeger said, “I’m optimistic. We’ve been through economic downturns and things got better. I think that will happen again.”
Rogers explains that SBAM is working hard to eliminate the Small Business Tax, which would take a lot of pressure off. They have come to an agreement with legislation to phase out the tax in the next 7 years.
Working on eliminating the Single Business Tax has been on the mind of several legislators, including Rep. Judson Gilbert, R-Lapeer. He said he is “absolutely against” the SBT.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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