Local Leaders Weigh In: How They're Supporting Local Businesses

by Shylo Bisnett, on December 15, 2020 at 12:44 PM

Recently, we polled our Local Leaders Roundtable about what these smart local leaders were doing to support small businesses during this time of unprecedented financial strain. In dozens of responses, we came away inspired by the creativity, resolve, and empathy of these leaders from communities large and small, all across the United States.


Financial Support

Nearly every single respondent mentioned their government’s financial programs for local businesses. These lifeline programs likely saved many small businesses, most often—but not always—funded through federal dollars.

  • In Centre County, Pennsylvania, Commissioner Mark Higgins told us about how the small-business support program there assisted 420 local businesses by dispersing sizable grants totaling $5.5 million. “Although we are a medium-sized county,” says Higgins, “this one of the largest small-business grants in the state of Pennsylvania, both in terms of dollars and the number of recipients.”

  • Mayor Eileen Weir of Independence, Missouri and Council Member Carmen Montano of Milpitas, California both reported that their communities have been funding small-business micro-grants through Community Development Block Grants.

  • Kyle Buchanan, Finance and Insurance Commissioner in Chenoa, Illinois, told us how his community created a designated business district and utilized Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars generated locally to provide grants to small businesses in danger of shutting down due to the pandemic.

Fees and Fines

Other local leaders detailed how their communities are supporting small businesses by minimizing or defraying fees or fines as well as moratoria on utility shutoffs.

  • Municipally owned utilities give several cities extra flexibility in forgiving late fees or bills. Council Member Roger Neal from Steilacoom, Washington reports that the city owns its electric, sewer, and water utilities and have made grants toward unpaid bills and plans to expand that program even further. Mayor Weir from Independence says they’ve suspended shut-offs for commercial accounts and waived late fees.

  • Knowing the struggles of restaurants and bars, many community leaders have responded proactively. Chris Sullivan, City Administrator for Aledo, Illinois, told us that his government’s approach has been to reduce liquor-license fees for impacted businesses by 50% and delay payment until June 30, 2021. Todd Leopold, County Executive Officer in Placer, California, also let us know that his government had developed a program to defray the costs of restaurant inspections—to the tune of $1.2 million.

Promotions & Marketing

Additionally, we were inspired to hear about the marketing approaches to supporting small businesses and their employees.

  • Franklin Township, Ohio joined forces with two neighboring municipalities on a coordinated social-media strategy to encourage residents to shop local. Administrator Traci Stivers also told us about developing an online resource program to help small businesspeople offer online shopping.

  • We were excited to hear from Village Trustee Dave Winters in Rockton, Illinois. The government partnered with a local businesses and television station to produce and sponsor an hour-long program. The program aired in advance of Small Business Saturday and Winters reports that featured businesses experienced a spike in sales. 

  • Another clever idea are custom scrip programs. In Willamina, Oregon, the city government mailed out Willabucks with each household's water bill. These certificates could only be spent at participating small businesses, which then turned them into the government for real currency. “Our town of 2,270 spent $7,500 in Willabucks,” says City Manager Kenna West.
  • Herriman City, Utah connected residents with blocks of $10 Herriman Bucks to be put to use at local businesses. “This program provided a benefit to the entire community,” says Tami Moody, Assistant City Manager. “Residents were given money to spend, and the local businesses continued to generate sales.” She reports that the program received very positive feedback and Herriman City plans to continue it for years to come.

Bonus Great Ideas

Additionally, leaders discussed their community’s novel approaches to keep small businesses humming during this time.

  • Several communities, such as Independence, Missouri, Grants Pass, Oregon, Aledo, Illinois, and Ocean View, Delaware, shared their strategies for expanding local dining, from allowing more sidewalk dining to creating “parklets” in the streets in front of businesses.

  • We also learned how Milpitas, California is helping restaurants maximize profits on delivery orders by limiting fees from services such as GrubHub and DoorDash.

  • And Union County, Ohio, Tim Hansley, County Administrator, talked about a pilot program his government is participating in through the State of Ohio to expand access to broadband in more rural communities. That’s great news for both businesses and residents.

How Can We Help?

Thanks to all the local leaders who shared how their governments are working hard, shoulder to shoulder with small businesses, to support the local economy. We were invigorated by the grit these leaders have shown and we know that the communities they serve are glad to have them.

We want to help, too. At Localgov, we offer communities looking to add a secure, socially distanced way for businesses to file & pay taxes. Our online filing & payment platform connects you with peerless insights & analytics reports to analyze your business community, and puts receivables in your accounts ASAP.

Our team would love to hear from your municipality about the challenges you’re up against and how our products and services can help. Let’s talk.