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Main Spotlight: The Revitalizing Small and Local Businesses Act

April 12, 2022 | Main Spotlight: The Revitalizing Small and Local Businesses Act | By: Kelly Humrichouser, Director of Government Relations at Main Street America | 

In this moment of recovery and opportunity, the work of Main Street and business district organizations is essential to holistic community growth through place-based support for small businesses. Entrepreneurship rates persist at all-time highs, and newer reports suggest that those rates have been highest among communities of color. Spurring new business development, scaling home-based businesses to storefronts, and creating physical environments where businesses thrive are fundamental activities to local economic reinvestment, particularly in socially and economically challenged areas.

With established roles as the go-to resource for place-based economic development, Main Streets and other local business district organizations will continue to play an outsized role in supporting entrepreneurial growth, especially considering that 70% of new businesses in a community are started by local residents. While these organizations have found innumerable ways to stretch their resources to support small businesses throughout the pandemic, no federal program has been enacted to date in response to the need to support business district organizations.

To address this issue, Senators Alex Padilla (CA) and Roger Wicker (MS), and Representatives Troy Carter (MS-02) and Michael Guest (LA-03), have introduced in the Revitalizing Small and Local Businesses Act (S.3340/H.R. 7451). Main Street America is proud to support this legislation that will create a competitive grant program within the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to support business district organizations in rural and underserved areas through the national nonprofit networks in which they participate. By providing a new pathway for EDA resources, the Revitalizing Small and Local Businesses Act (RSLBA) would supplement existing programs to add needed resources and a distribution channel that prioritizes historically disinvested communities and entrepreneurs.

The RSLBA addresses the needs of emerging and established entrepreneurs through funding and technical assistance to create environments in which local businesses thrive. New research affirms: investments in quality of life, including the small business environment and place-based assets, are larger contributors to positive economic outcomes than traditional business incentives. But a successful business district revitalization effort needs a durable local organizational structure with sufficient staffing to develop strategies and execute plans to create place-based support for small businesses.
Robust capacity building for local business district organizations is essential for creating an environment in which small, local businesses can thrive. A lack of capacity for business district organizations, particularly in rural and underserved areas, is a fundamental to barrier the implementation of a broader set of community and economic development activities, including housing, tourism, and placemaking, and the ability to leverage other federal and state opportunities for downtown investments.

The RSLBA sits at the nexus of these concerns, recognizing that business district revitalization is an essential economic development activity and that EDA investments have yet to reach many under resourced communities and organizations. While historic federal recovery investments were directed to EDA's most flexible funding programs, these funds remained inaccessible to the hardest hit, hardest to reach communities. By establishing a specific funding channel that utilizes the reach and capacity of national non-profit organizations and their networks of local partners, the legislation would supplement existing EDA funding strategies to drive investment into communities who are otherwise unable to participate in federal funding streams.

Main Street America is grateful for the work of Senators Padilla and Wicker and Representatives Carter and Guest for their bi-partisan co-sponsorship of this important legislation. As Congress considers the reauthorization of the Economic Development Administration (EDA), Main Street America strongly supports the inclusion of the Revitalizing Small and Local Businesses Act to create more robust and equitable access to federal resources for business district organizations.

Main Street America appreciates the dedicated advocacy work Main Street programs and partners in California, Mississippi, and Louisiana – as well as the strong partnership of national endorsing organizations partnering on this effort.