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Business Association Says NJ Small Businesses Struggling More than Most of USA

(The Center Square) – While a recent national survey indicated some positive strides for U.S. small businesses, the sentiment is not widespread in New Jersey, according to a local business community official.

In its September jobs report, the National Federation of Independent Business indicated 10 percent of small business owners have increased staffing as consumer demand has followed suit. Across the country, 23 percent of respondents indicated plans of increasing jobs in the next three months.

“Small employers are taking every step they can to keep their businesses open and employees on staff,” NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg said in a statement in response to the results. “COVID-19 restrictions and regulations put on small businesses vary by state, but we are starting to see a jobs recovery as small businesses continue to increase business operations.”

But in New Jersey, where pandemic-related closures and restrictions have lingered for more than half a year, “Things aren’t pretty,” said Eileen Kean, state director of the NFIB.

“I love seeing, in the national survey, that improvements are happening across the country,” Kean said in an interview with The Center Square. “But New Jersey is a different situation. We still have a lack of consumer confidence, in terms of people going out in stores.”

Restaurants, bars and other gathering places remain under strict capacity limits under Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy’s orders, which continues to hit New Jersey’s small business community hard, Kean said.

“Our indoor dining, gyms, spas, nail salons still have a 25 percent capacity limit,” Kean said. “Our arts, music and entertainment have zero revenue. So, I never join in on the enthusiasm in some of the other states, because I am not seeing that in New Jersey. New Jersey’s small businesses continue to suffer.”

When asked which specific small business industries are suffering at the hands of the restrictions to contain the coronavirus, Kean said the impact, by and large, is felt across the board.

“Limousine companies are suffering,” Kean said, citing one example. “Their trips to the airport, to places like Atlantic City, aren’t happening anymore. It’s just a real impact, across the board. It just multiplies, and it feeds into everything.”

If there is a silver lining, Kean said small businesses that have tweaked their business models to broaden consumer demand have suffered less across the state.

“Businesses that have successfully reinvented their online presence are doing better than the bricks and mortar store on Main Street,” Kean said “If a business has been able to become a mini-Amazon and attract sales online to supplement their in-store activity, they are typically doing better.”

While the September small business report did provide a kernel of good news on a nationwide scale, there were concerns noted.

Case in point: Of the borrowers taking out Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration, 22 percent of borrowers across the country said they anticipated having to lay off employees in the next six months without more help.

“Owners are trying to reduce costs and adjust business operations to keep their doors open, but for many, that’s not enough,” Holly Wade, executive director of NFIB’s research center, said in a statement. “Small businesses are in danger of closing for good if they don’t get additional financial assistance.”