In the past few weeks I have made a number of trips to various places in these United States. I believe some of the things I have seen and experienced have given me a much clearer picture of what is right and wrong with this country than what I previously had.
Last week I made a short journey from Jackson, Tennessee to Corinth, Mississippi. For a time I was trying to keep track of the number of empty warehouses, small manufacturing facilities, auto dealerships and other business facilities; I quickly had to give up trying to keep track of them all. I was in total awe at the number of “for sale” or “for lease” signs on various buildings of all sizes and condition.
The first thing that struck me was wondering where all the people who used to work at these places have gone. Did they find new employment or are they unemployed? Are they still receiving unemployment or have they given up? Did they stay in the area or move on to “greener pastures”? These were the questions running through my mind.
Locally, in the far western parts of the St. Louis, Missouri metropolis, I am amazed at the number of empty commercial facilities. We used to have three car dealers here back in April and now we have one, and it is about to fail. We used to have a transmission repair facility, a number of reputable auto mechanics and body shops. The numbers have dwindled to where only the strongest have survived.
In quick succession over the past year, first the Sonic ceased operation, then the Dairy Queen and finally the Hardees. Granted, there are still three other fast food places in operation, but to lose one half of the total places to eat in a town (fast food) in such a short time is incredible.
What happens to the tax base in places where one business after another fails? What happens to the image projected to outsiders when they look around at one empty building after another? It certainly does not act as an impetus to move there and open a new business. Just a couple of years ago two strip malls were constructed next to each other. They all filled up with businesses very quickly. Within two years one is completely empty and the other is less than half occupied.
Where have all the small businesses gone in this country? Where have all the small machine shops, repair shops and specialty item retailers gone to? We have an Outlet Mall in our town. At one time all 50 places were leased and businesses were operating within them. In the last two years the occupancy rate has dropped to less than 50% with more surely closing in January.
While the eyes of the media are squarely upon Fortune 500 companies and how their stock does on a given day, the eyes of most of us are on the local small businesses and their ability to stay afloat in these troubled times. With so many of the new laws being discussed in Congress ready to make operating a small business nearly impossible; one has to wonder what the landscape will look like by this time next year. I really do wonder how many family owned small businesses will be left standing by then.