The Power of Local in Difficult Times

These are difficult times. We all know it. But our strength lies in each other. I had intended to write about our recent event, The Power of Local. But little did I realize that I would be viewing the Power of Local through a different lens. After the cancellation of SXSW and the approach of the coronavirus, we are viewing everything through a different lens.

What can we do? We can collectively minimize the effects of financial losses by supporting each other. We can reduce the viral infection of our community by practicing common sense with our employees and our customers. It is natural to look to others to help us. But there is much that we can do for ourselves. We are not powerless. We have the Power of Local.

If every business, local and not, commits to purchasing what they need from local businesses, we will stabilize our local economy. I’m talking to you big corporations who call Austin home. You can decentralize your purchases of goods and services to focus on local companies that drive the community where you reside. And I’m talking to local business too. This is a time to support one another. There’s no need to spend more, spend what you need to but at local businesses.

We know how this virus spreads. We can’t totally stop it but we can slow it to a crawl by sanitizing everything. Repeatedly. You’ve heard the drill. Wash your hands, your counters, your door handles—anything people touch. Don’t touch your face for any reason. Stay home if you’re sick. Educate your employees about this.

Quell your customers’ fears by telling them what you’re doing to keep them safe. This can be as simple as a sign on your door and an email to reassure them of the steps you’ve taken. It’s up to us to create a safe environment where customers feel comfortable. Find alternatives for reaching customers. Delivery? Online shopping? Phone orders? Quick and easy pick ups? Deals? Be creative about attracting customers.

Fear has the capability to cause more damage than the real challenges facing us. Let’s eliminate it in ourselves and our employees by being proactive in prevention. Let’s calm it in our customers by assuring them that we are providing the safest environments possible.

Each of us may be one person doing what we can. But think about how many people local business reaches on a daily basis. Our collective reach is vast. Our influence and leadership is powerful. It is the Power of Local. Let’s show Austin and the country what we can do.

HR Plans During Crisis

Submitted by Caroline Valentine, Valentine HR

I have rewritten this blog post every day for the past three days as new information is being shared by business partners and government agencies and finally realized this quickly moving and fluid situation will continue to evolve so it is best to send this out with the caveat that information may change. We will be updating our blog and email distributions more frequently during this time.  

As the realities of the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and subsequent disruptions to everyday life are beginning to set in, we have received emails from partners including Microsoft, Google, Lyft, and WeWork, with assurances of protocols they have put into place so that employees are being supported with training on safe behavior and other measures to provide the best services to customers.

We have been in contact with health insurance carriers including BCBS, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare on coverage options for full funded, level funded and self-funded plans. Some have determined deadlines for opting into extended coverage. I will be addressing this later in this blog post.

Disability insurance carriers have reached out with coverage options and protocols for filing claims for those affected by illness during this time.

SHRM, Society of Human Resources Management, has hosted a webinar with the assistant director of the CDC, Center for Disease Control, Jay C. Butler, MD, Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases earlier this week where we learned more on How Businesses, Workers and Workplaces Should Respond to COVID-19. 

Basically, everyone is communicating on an on-going basis. If you are a business owner or non-profit executive struggling over how best to respond to the current situation, it is time to dust off your crisis and communication management plans and activate them.

Having a plan to determine next best steps for your employees, customers, and constituents is crucial during any disruptions whether they be weather related, technology failures or as in the case now, global pandemic. Yes, the, WHO, World Health Organization, has determined and announced this.

Don’t have a communication plan for employees?   Here is where to start: READ MORE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Price of Our Voice

For more than 15 years the AIBA has listened to its members and voiced their concerns at City Hall. At times we have proposed local policies that could help create a more thriving local business community or to relieve a particularly painful part of doing business. At times we’ve had to react to something the City Council has proposed. More often we’ve spoken to illuminate issues troubling to local business.

Throughout the years we have always advocated for and fought for local business. Until recently this has been a wonderful process of building lasting relationships, of debating the issues of the day, of being heard and considering the perspective of others in our community. Sometimes we’ve had to agree to disagree but ending with respect and a handshake. Local business was never viewed as the enemy—until now.

The City of Austin has recently cancelled $60,000 in contracts with AIBA. These are longstanding contracts that have served both entities well. These cancellations all came within a month of publicly announcing our support of Unconventional Austin’s Proposition B—and with no explanation.

The cancellations were no coincidence. They were punishment for voicing support for something contrary to the City Council’s desire to expand the Convention Center without permitting the public to vote. The AIBA, a local nonprofit and the local business community it represents is being punished for expressing the views of its members. That is not OK.

We are advocating for the public to have a vote on Convention Center expansion and to spend a small amount of Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) to promote local business to tourists. We’ve voted on every Convention Center expansion in the past and this one should be no different. However you might choose to vote on expansion, we just want you to have that opportunity.

Tourists who come to Austin are looking for what’s unique and different from where they live. They are looking to experience a different culture. Local business provides a fabulous expression of our local culture from clubs and restaurants to local shops. It is entirely appropriate that the city should promote our locals. It is also appropriate that as an organization of locally owned businesses, the AIBA should spotlight local businesses to benefit their own business and our local economy. It’s really that simple.

We are not so large that $60,000 doesn’t matter. It does. I have spent hours and hours looking at what services and programs we do for you that could be cut. But there is no fat here. So I’m asking you to step up and support the only organization in Austin dedicated to supporting you, our local businesses.

If you are already a member, consider a higher membership level or becoming a sponsor or partner. If you are not yet a member, join us at www.ibuyaustin.com/join. The City has taken your funding, but don’t let them damage our community. I can be reached anytime at rebecca@ibuyaustin.com or 512-441-2123.

AIBA Proposes A Better Process

Austin politics today are often unnecessarily divisive and destructive. Our community faces challenges in dealing with employer-employee issues such as paid sick leave, livable wages, and predictive scheduling. We have a great opportunity to come together to address these issues and find solutions. We are a smart, creative city. We can find solutions to even the most difficult problems—if we work collectively and respectfully. We need A Better Process.

Local businesses are a crucial part of our community. Entrepreneurs with the vision and drive to create small local businesses exemplify the hopes and dreams of everyone who wants to control their economic destiny. Their employees are part of their team, some consider them family. Local business owners care for their team in every way they can. We’re stewards of culture and commerce.

Cooperation will achieve the best results

Last year, AIBA formed a Better Process Committee tasked with researching other cities and states to find better processes to achieve our shared community goals. What we found led us to create a proposal for a better process to address employer-employee issues.

First, we propose a local study of each issue to identify the full scope of the problems. Accurate data and understanding the scope of a problem will lead to better, more targeted, solutions that help those who need it the most and won’t give state lawmakers cause to deprive us of local control.

The second step is to convene a Workplace Task Force of organizations representing all segments of business and employee organizations. This task force would be charged with reviewing the study of each problem and finding solutions to recommend to the City Council.

The third step is to take the time to do an impact study of any proposed policies. The speed of enacting the paid sick leave ordinance created an ordinance fraught with unintended consequences and left some feeling excluded.

Good government governs in the best interest of all the people, not just one group. Local policy should not provide benefits for one segment by punishing another. By working collectively, other communities have found ways to address their issues that worked for everyone. AIBA is proposing that Austin do the same. We are asking the Austin City Council to adopt A Better Process.

2019 Independent Business Survey Results

This was originally published by the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR). AIBA members participated in the study.

The results of the 2019 Independent Business Survey from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance demonstrate the strength and resiliency of small, independent businesses. They also speak to the forces independents see as significant threats and roadblocks to their businesses: a playing field made uneven by policies that favor their bigger competitors, highly concentrated markets for key supplies and services, and difficulty securing capital, among other barriers.

As we have documented in previous surveys, independent businesses have proven nimble during a period of dramatic shifts in technology and consumer habits. Much of their resilience can be traced to the distinct benefits they provide to their customers, industries, and communities.

Yet, despite these competitive advantages and their broader importance to the U.S. political economy, independent businesses are under threat and declining in most industries. The findings of our 2019 Independent Business Survey suggest that the problem isn’t changing technology or consumer habits. Instead, independent business owners say they are often competing on a unlevel playing field. Many public policy decisions in recent years have fueled market concentration and favored their big competitors….READ MORE.