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The unemployed need help becoming small business owners

While reimagining Farmville during this time of stopping and resetting the economy as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, economic development is an important part of reshaping the way the area defines itself.

It is clear the Farmville area will see some changes economically in the coming months. Some have already occurred, more are likely on the horizon.

A quick calculation of Prince Edward County’s unemployment rate using recent weekly claims shows that the unemployment rate is unofficially somewhere near 16%. That’s shocking considering the county was at 4.2% in March.

In March, Prince Edward was shown as having 482 workers unemployed. Now, just a few weeks later, that number has almost tripled. Prince Edward has seen 1,147 people file for unemployment since March 28. While many of those former employees will hopefully rejoin the workforce once the economy gets moving again, many jobs will likely not return as quickly as we would like. Also, many more will likely be affected by the economic impact of COVID-19 before this is over.

As part of the area’s economic development program, opportunities to turn these individuals without jobs into entrepreneurs and small business owners should be a large part of the strategy. They need knowledge, mentorship and low-interest loans to get them started. They may also need a place to start their business. The town or county should look into a small business incubator where businesses can quickly determine whether they will make it or not, without a lot of upfront investment. The chamber and downtown partnership should be there to provide advice and support.

When municipalities think about economic development, it always seems to be about the next megawarehouse, auto plant or data center. All those things are great and should be part of the plan, but that’s like going to the plate and trying to hit a home run every pitch. Hitting some singles for the small business owners and entrepreneurs is an important part of a healthy economic climate. With retail stores disappearing and industrial growth in decline, economic development strategies have to adjust to this new environment.

Today’s economic development strategy has to include a solid focus on small-business owners. We need to retain the ones we have and provide a fertile environment so more people will feel comfortable stepping out on their own to fill a downtown store or develop an online business from their home.

As a society, we need to redefine success as not a climb up the ladder of corporate entities but as building a business while also helping to build a community and boost the local economy. As consumers, we need to recognize those who have the best interests of the community at heart and support those who have a vested interest in the town.

The pandemic has shown us we still need most of the services and products we needed before COVID-19 came to our shores, we just need them delivered differently. We still watch movies, just from our couch. We still eat, just from takeout or have to suffer from our own cooking. We still work, just from our dining room table. Our kids are still taking classes, but now we are all home-school teachers. We still need products and services in our lives, we just need someone to make it convenient for us to get them with as little human interaction as possible.

As we reimagine economic development, the economic power is shifting to the people with the imagination and ideas to find new ways to deliver the quality goods and services that we need in our everyday lives.

This pandemic will forever change the way this generation shops, dines and buys entertainment. The business community will quickly adjust.

Hopefully the economic development strategy of municipalities will make those adjustments as well.

(The views in this editorial are of The Farmville Herald editorial staff. This editorial was written by Editor Roger Watson. He can be reached at Editor@FarmvilleHerald.com or (434) 808-0622.)