By Allison Abney
A scientific opinion poll the Small Business Majority released this week shows Virginia small employers have experienced a significant financial impact due to extreme weather, with 59 percent temporarily shutting their doors and nearly 1 in 5 having to lay off workers. A policy paper also being released this week by Small Business Majority provides a number of legislative actions lawmakers can take to help small businesses better weather these extreme events, and mitigate the effects of climate change that causes them.
The poll, conducted Feb. 7-10, 2014 by Public Policy Polling on behalf of Small Business Majority, found four in 10 small businesses have been personally impacted by extreme weather, and a staggering 87 percent of those businesses say they’ve experienced a “significant” financial impact because of it. Nearly four in 10 small business owners report they’ve experienced damages between $5,000 and $25,000. What’s more, nearly 1 in 5 Virginia small business owners had to lay off workers due to extreme weather and 59 percent have had to close their business for up to a week, with some closing for as long as 14 to 30 days.
“I don’t normally blame weak sales on bad weather, but this winter has been really hard on my business,” said Mike Brey, owner of Hobby Works in Fairfax. “We’ve been forced to close because of extreme snowstorms, several of which happened on weekends—our busiest time of the week. The extreme cold also has more people staying indoors, which has cut down on foot traffic. While you expect some snowstorms during this time of year, it’s clear the weather is getting more intense. This isn’t the first time we’ve been hurt by extreme weather, either. Hurricane Sandy resulted in the worst sales in the month of October we’ve ever experienced.”
It comes as no surprise that the majority (58 percent) of Virginia small business owners believe climate change and the extreme weather it creates are an urgent problem that can disrupt the economy and hurt small businesses, and they support clean energy policies aimed at lessening the impacts of climate change and that benefit their bottom lines.
Sixty-four percent agree the expanded use of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power can have economic benefits for small business owners by creating new business opportunities for entrepreneurs. Another 51 percent believe implementation of clean energy policies such as the Clean Air Act can help small businesses improve their bottom lines by spurring technological innovation to meet clean air standards, creating new industries and stimulating demand for services. What’s more, 52 percent support the Environmental Protection Agency regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants that contribute to climate change.
While climate change and extreme weather events have sparked partisan debate, it’s important to note that Virginia small business owners don’t see this issue through an ideological lens. The political breakdown of the poll was varied, with 35 percent identifying as Republican, 26 percent as Democrat and 40 percent as independent. This shows policymakers on both sides of the aisle should take notice. Legislative action they can take now is laid out in “The Toll Extreme Weather Takes on Small Business & the Economy,” a policy paper outlining the impact extreme weather has on small businesses, why they’re uniquely vulnerable and how to address the issue on a legislative front. The report includes recommendations such as enacting the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (or Shaheen-Portman bill), which would promote energy conservation and cut energy waste, and having the Small Business Administration assess the effects of climate change and extreme weather on our nation’s small businesses in order to help inform entrepreneurs and policymakers about the importance of climate change mitigation, among others.
“Climate change and extreme weather have been touching an increasing number of small employers, and with nearly 1 in 5 owners saying they’ve had to lay off employees, it’s time to sit up and take notice,” said John Arensmeyer, Founder & CEO of Small Business Majority. “Policymakers should embrace smart clean energy policies that can help mitigate climate change and prompt innovation – which would create opportunities for small businesses, boost the economy and help address some of the economic uncertainty we’re experiencing today – all while addressing this growing problem of extreme weather wrecking havoc on our primary job creators.”
Allison Abney is the media relations director of Small Business Majority, a national small business advocacy organization.