Jessica Mathews /

United States Small Business Administrator Isabella Guzman was in town Thursday and heard from various small business owners and community leaders about the different challenges being faced today – ranging from talent attraction and retention to the ability to repay loans with economic uncertainty and staffing shortages.

Guzman joined Livingston County’s Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin on a walking tour and visited some businesses downtown before moving into a roundtable discussion at the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce.

Various community leaders and staff along with representatives from local businesses, financial institutions, chambers of commerce, SBA lenders, and economic development organizations were all in attendance at the afternoon event.

Attracting and retaining personnel continues to be a massive issue for pretty much all small businesses, which were also said to be dealing with rising interest rates that are wiping out profitability. Shifts in work ethic and mindset were also discussed and many owners are simply exhausted.
One observation stated was that many local businesses didn’t want to take on more debt during a pandemic and the idea of taking on a loan was “paralyzing”.

Many owners were said to be drained and lack the energy and creative passion that drove them to business in the first place. It was further noted that larger corporations have full-time human resource departments and other resources that small businesses don’t. The prospect of training someone was said to be very daunting, especially with recent trends of people going really far into the interview process or being hired but then calling it quits after one day.

It was stated that women face unique challenges and those with children at home were impacted more than men as it pulled them out of the workforce. Challenges associated with childcare were brought up, which was said to be available in Livingston County but not necessarily affordable. Slotkin stated that most people don’t see the value in going back to work if it will only cover childcare expenses – adding there are overlapping layers with housing and for young families in the county that compound workforce issues.

Slotkin said what struck her in talking with local business owners was that many have been basically running at 100mph since COVID hit and have personnel issues or supply chain issues or both and are looking at high interest rates. She says those businesses are being asked to be creative yet again but owners are physically and mentally exhausted. Slotkin said many don’t have time for everything including hiring and training and could benefit from temporary HR help or grant-writing assistance.

Slotkin noted it’s not just about all of the economic factors but the exhaustion levels and how that affects a decision whether to keep a business. She says many owners are unhappy and can’t get ahead and that’s when many decide to say “they’re out”.

Guzman stressed they’ll continue to help support and strengthen small businesses that were hard hit by the pandemic but are also dealing with a more global and competitive marketplace. She said they want to make sure the SBA is positioned to help small businesses navigate different challenges – which are having to pivot and adapt on a continuous basis to try and survive. She noted the SBA offers low-cost affordable loans and provides networks, support and other resources to help businesses strengthen their balance sheets.

Guzman also detailed different programs and regulatory reforms to help attract more lenders to benefit small businesses. Further, she noted the importance of businesses reaching out to have conversations if they’re worried about defaulting on a loan.