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Pandemic, health of small business top of mind for SBAM's Calley – Crain's Detroit Business

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Small Business Association of Michigan: After serving as Michigan’s lieutenant governor under Gov. Rick Snyder from 2011 to 2019, Detroit native Brian Calley joined the Small Business Association of Michigan as president because of the organization’s reputation and a mission that inspires him every day. Calley, 43, began his career as a banker and says his professional life and career have always intertwined with small businesses. The small business landscape has been hit hard by the pandemic.

Prior to joining SBAM, you served as Michigan’s lieutenant governor. How did you come to join SBAM?

(Small business) is in my blood. After leaving office there are a number of directions I considered going. SBAM gives me the opportunity to be very engaged in the public policy arena, without the political environment dominating every waking moment of my life. It is a 51-year-old organization with an A-plus team behind it.

What exactly does SBAM do for small businesses?

SBAM provides extensive services to small businesses of all types. We have over 28,000 members and continue to grow. Our core services include best practice and compliance education, group purchasing, state and federal advocacy, political candidate vetting and endorsements, energy efficiency services, association management and lobbying, and COBRA administration and insurance. Our services to our members evolve with the needs and demands of our members.

How, if it has, has SBAM’s role changed since the pandemic hit?

Everything about how we operate and serve our members has been impacted by the pandemic. Our workforce has been, and remains, mostly remote. The emphasis on small business advocacy and compliance education has become more prevalent than ever before. Our team of 27 is hardworking, smart, experienced and nimble. Our goal is to help small businesses anticipate and prepare for a dynamic and constantly changing environment. Our members have never needed us more, and the SBAM team has been up for the challenge.

With the election now behind us, what does the result mean for small businesses going forward?

Anytime that leadership in political offices changes, there is a period of uncertainty. But SBAM is a strategically bipartisan organization. We see the value and necessity of maintaining strong working relationships across the political aisle for the benefit of our members. I am confident that we will continue to have a voice at the table at the highest levels of government.

The $100 million in CARES Act funding is close to exhausted. How important is it for a new federal stimulus plan for small businesses in Michigan? Is there anything else that can be done? Is there anything else in the works?

The economy is stronger right now than most people would have guessed it would be six months ago. But extraordinary challenges and risks remain. For the hardest hit industries, we believe an additional round of Paycheck Protection Program-style support from the federal government will be necessary — especially for those businesses still operating under operational capacity restrictions. Additionally, it is important that the next federal stimulus package reverse the IRS decision to not allow deductibility of expenses paid for by PPP proceeds.

Gov. Whitmer put in a new, modified stay-at-home order that took effect Nov. 18. How will this round of closures affect small businesses and why do you think some businesses were able to remain open after having to close in March?

The financial health of businesses is highly tied to what industry they operate in. Manufacturing, construction and large retailers are doing pretty well. But most restaurants, hospitality businesses, entertainment venues, sports-focused enterprises and certain service sectors are all facing catastrophic failure through no fault of their own. The main difference between now and March is that there are no federal funds and many of these businesses are already severely weakened from long-term closures and restrictions imposed over the spring and through the summer.

Based on what you’ve heard, are business owners worried about having to close for good due to a slowdown in traffic?

The experience of small businesses during the pandemic is highly correlated with industry. There are many types of professional services that are operating at levels similar to, or even exceeding, pre-pandemic levels. Most sectors within manufacturing seem to have recovered nicely. But many, perhaps most is a better description, businesses in the hospitality and entertainment industries are in critical condition. Additionally, there are several sectors that face extraordinary challenges in the future because of the changes that could endure beyond the widespread distribution of an effective vaccine. Commercial real estate, brick and mortar retail, dry cleaners, restaurants that rely on office worker foot traffic. Some things won’t go back (to normal) because of the new operating models that are being developed today. This era will reshuffle the deck in many ways. There will be big winners who are well positioned to adapt to, or even drive the change, but there will also be many who lose everything.

What worries business leaders most about the current surge in COVID-19 cases?

The surge in cases adds so much more uncertainty to the picture. Will we be able to remain open? What actions will government take? How will employees respond? Will employees have access to child care? When you ask a struggling small business owner if they believe they will be able to survive through this pandemic, the answer is often “tell me how long it will last and I’ll tell you if I can survive.”

How much help will sales during the holiday season provide small business owners in terms of cash flow to help them through what is traditionally a slow time following the Christmas holiday?

For retailers and restaurants near major retailers, the holiday season makes or breaks the year. As purchasing habits change, even a strong overall holiday season for retail could be catastrophic for local businesses if consumers are not intentional about keeping their business local.

How long do you plan to stay with SBAM?

You should expect to be able to reach me at SBAM for a long time.

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