Contra Costa Times (CA), January 24, 2009
Parwin Fazli is determined to keep her company afloat even as every week seems to bring word of another business caving to the weak economy.
“We have to make it,” said Fazli, co-owner of the Antioch limousine service All Vital Transportation. “We have to go through this, and we’ll try to do our best.”
In the past few months, All Vital has felt the pinch from fewer people splurging on charters to Napa wineries, and corporate clients are booking fewer airport trips as they cut their own travel budgets.
So on Tuesday, Fazli found herself at the first installment of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce’s Business 911 workshop series, listening to Bank of the West’s Christine O’Brien discuss ways for small businesses to make themselves attractive loan candidates.
“It was very helpful, very informative,” said Fazli, who is thinking about adding to her company’s fleet of town cars, limousines and luxury sport utility vehicles, and would need a loan to do it.
Across Antioch and throughout the region, small businesses are bracing for a drawn-out recession, and the five-week Business 911 series is one way the chamber is trying to help employers cope.
Delving into topics like finding alternative funding sources and solving human resource dilemmas, the sessions aim to help local companies weather the storm and plan for a comeback once the clouds pass.
“There is nobody who isn’t feeling it,” she said. “It’s to what degree are they prepared, and how are they going to come out of it.”
Several shops and restaurants in Antioch have closed their doors in recent months, including Italian restaurant Risotto, downtown gift shop Something Cherished and the iconic Berry’s Pastry Shop. Downtown’s Garden Source has been liquidating, and will go dark by the end of the month, and even the chamber recently had to trim some of its employees’ hours.
While small businesses haven’t yet been touched by the beneficial trickle-down from federal bailouts, they are feeling the effect of consumers spending less, Antioch Chamber of Commerce CEO Devi Lanphere said. California has approximately 3.4 million small businesses with 500 or fewer employees, and the state’s small employers provide 52 percent of the state’s private sector employment, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s advocacy office.
While information in the chamber’s workshops may give the needed boost to businesses not on the brink of bankruptcy, the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy’s Lawrence McQuillan suggested that what’s in order are broader reforms to improve small employers’ shot at thriving.
“To me right now, it’s kind of like trying to save the Titanic by bailing water with a thimble,” said McQuillan, the institute’s director of business and economic studies.
All the attention now focused on the economy, however, means lawmakers might be receptive to ideas like instituting a regulatory flexibility act or overhauling the tax code — which could improve small businesses’ odds and stem their exodus to cheaper states like Arizona, Utah and Texas, McQuillan said.
“There have been many studies showing the per-employee cost of small businesses complying with regulations is two, three, four times higher than it is for large businesses,” McQuillan said. “A lot of them just can’t do business here and are forced to leave the state. It’s nothing new; it’s just the current situation kind of magnifies problems that have been percolating under the surface for years.
“People are really focused on it now,” he added.
“They’re actually willing to listen to alternatives, and think outside the normal way of thinking.”
Meanwhile, Lanphere, at the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that the economy, like all things, is cyclic, and that business owners must be proactive. “If you just hold on by your fingernails, you’re going to miss some opportunities,” she said.
Reach Hilary Costa at 925-779-7166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is still time to sign up for the four remaining workshops in the Antioch Chamber of Commerce’s Business 911 series. The workshops are held from 8 to 11 a.m. Tuesday mornings. The cost is $25 for chamber members and $30 for nonmembers. For information, call 925-757-1800 or visit www.antiochchamber.com.