Guest Op-Ed: Investing in Small Businesses, During And After the Crisis

By Joe Gravellese

Small businesses are the backbone of any community. A just and equitable revitalization of areas like Revere Beach, Route 1 Saugus, and downtown Chelsea requires strong, locally-owned businesses, which not only add economic vibrancy to a community, but also provide a bulwark against displacement. The need to support small businesses is now even more urgent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Here are some ways I’ll fight for local entrepreneurs if elected State Representative on September 1: 

Making permanent reforms that give more flexibility to small businesses 

In the wake of COVID-19, local governments got creative about green-lighting ideas for businesses that would normally require months of red tape.

Kowloon in Saugus and Easy Pie in Revere have hosted drive-in movie nights. Restaurants like Demaino’s, Dryft,  and the Hammersmith have expanded their outdoor patios, including occupying street or parking lot space to create more safe opportunities for dining. “To-go” cocktails are available for pickup at your favorite restaurants.

We need to make many of these short-term changes permanent, and give businesses the flexibility to try new, creative ideas. This includes making sure that licensing and permitting requirements are focused on public safety, and not on stifling competition. It also means continuing to monitor abuses of employment law, like noncompete clauses, which big businesses often use to depress innovation and competition. 

Investing in locally-owned businesses and workers

As a region, we must invest in thoughtful workforce development programs that train local residents of all backgrounds to participate in the 21st century economy.

This means ensuring that when the new Revere High School is built, it is equipped to train students for the jobs of the future, including space for robotics, biotechnology, and life sciences. It also means ensuring the school has a vocational and technical component to give more students access to career education.

Revere, Chelsea, and Saugus need partners at the state level to unlock investment in programs that support small food vendors, artists, and other unique enterprises.

When I worked in the Mayor’s office in Revere, I worked on projects to create a one-stop landing page for starting a business in Revere, and to create “e-permitting” to make the process of getting started easier and more convenient. We need to invest in additional resources like these to make the process of starting a business less daunting.

Creating Walkable, Vibrant, Accessible Spaces 

The best way to help small businesses thrive is to create safe, walkable, vibrant spaces, especially near transit. State-level grant funding has been crucial in upgrading infrastructure in key corridors like Broadway and Shirley Ave in Revere.

Continued upgrades to transit are also crucial. By strengthening bus service and reimagining the commuter rail, we will increase the number of neighborhoods with access to a workforce and a customer base.

Recognizing that internet is essential

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted both the necessity of the internet, and the gap in internet availability. Businesses need quality internet access to participate in today’s economy, and customers need the internet to connect to commerce and to jobs. But we can’t rely on monopolistic cable companies to expand internet access.

Several communities around Massachusetts, including Chicopee, have invested in community or municipal-owned broadband programs. Communities like ours should explore similar options to make sure our residents have access to the tools they need to participate in the economy.

Supporting green-collar enterprises

The working-class jobs of the future will be “green-collar” jobs in clean energy, or in retrofitting existing buildings. We need to invest in job training programs for these jobs, make sure local vocational schools and community colleges are equipped to prepare residents to move in to them, and ensure that Massachusetts rightfully emerges as a global leader in wind and solar technology.

 Short-term COVID-19 relief

In coming months, small businesses will need continued support from the government to stay afloat. This means another round of small business loans to help businesses keep employees on their payroll and remain open. It also means continued state-level investment in PPE and sanitation supplies to provide to local businesses to allow them to operate safely. 

We need state-level support to ward off economic devastation, especially in hard-hit communities like Chelsea, where local leaders recently called on the Governor to provide additional support for programs like food and rental assistance. If the local workforce and customer base can’t afford to pay rent or for essentials, businesses will suffer, too.

Our region needed thoughtful investments in workforce training and community development even before this crisis – but now, as we recover, these efforts are more important than ever. I am committed to championing small businesses and local entrepreneurs if elected to serve the 16th Suffolk District. 

Joe Gravellese is a candidate for State Representative in the Democratic Primary election on September 1 in the 16th Suffolk District (Revere, Chelsea, Saugus).

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