Cam Ward: Back Local Retail in Ala.’s Sales-Tax Economy

This is part of a continuing series of commentaries by Alabama business and community leaders about the coronavirus crisis.

Cam Ward, State Senator, District 14 (Jefferson County)

We live in unprecedented times with the outbreak of COVID-19. It has created a degree of uncertainty that I have not seen since September 11, 2001. Many business owners in Shelby, Bibb and Chilton Counties all express the same concern: when will this end? No one knows the answer to this question, which definitely increases the anxiety level for the small business owner.

As we move through this crisis, the biggest request I continue to receive from our business community is the desire for more information. Never has there been a more important time to make sure that the public is getting the most up to date information as possible. As public officials, we must make sure we do everything possible to get the most up to date statistics and help available to our citizens. This is one major step that can help dispel misinformation that often drives our worst fears and anxieties. I will continue to provide the most up to date information as I receive it from the Governor’s Office, as this is truly an hour by hour situation.

I would like to strongly encourage Alabama citizens to not panic and to please look for the most reliable information available. A lot of false information is out there, causing the crisis to be even more dangerous than it currently should be. I constantly get emails and phone calls from people confused about what they are seeing on social media and trying to determine what is accurate. This is the first international pandemic in the social media age. False information is spreading faster than the actual facts.

The Emergency Declaration by the President will assist local businesses but will not solve all of their problems by itself. Alabama is a sales-tax based economy, so we have to make sure we support our local retail establishments. They will be the hardest hit by this pandemic. A week or two can cause serious damage to these businesses, but a month or two can be a life and death experience for retail in Alabama. We just don’t know how long the ramifications of this pandemic will last. Recently, I talked to a business owner who was finally getting back on his feet in Gulf Shores after the BP Oil Spill fallout. He said for once he felt confident about his future before this event occurred, and he now feels like he will have to start all over again. This is one of many stories we will continue to hear about in the days and weeks ahead.

Going forward, the answers to this problem are not easy. First, government was designed by our founding fathers to be slow and is, for lack of a better word, clunky. That means any government solution will be slow in coming forth. Yes, the federal government can print a lot of money to throw at the problem, but that too will be a long time coming. Second, when will this end?  None of us know, so we are going to constantly battle with our fears and the fear of the unknown.

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Nothing can be tougher on a business owner than the unknown and the fear of what is around the next corner. I believe that the best thing for state officials to do right now is to take this problem seriously, stay on top of the challenges of our business community, and act accordingly. I have been encouraged by Governor (Kay) Ivey’s response, as well as the response of her cabinet. We have a long way to go until we will get to the other side of this crisis, but, as with 9/11 and the BP Oil Spill, Alabama will make it through this challenge as well if we are committed to working through this in a bipartisan manner that protects both our public health and economy.

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