Ohio businesses are not out of the woods from the pandemic.
Small business owners are facing inflation, a worker shortage, and the lingering effects of shutdowns and capacity limitations.
But that doesn’t seem to be of concern to Ohio’s leaders. Gov. Mike DeWine has done little to aid struggling entrepreneurs. Instead, he’s focused on failed strategies to encourage residents to get vaccinated.
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It’s a noble cause to be sure; I would encourage everyone to receive the vaccine. But the effort and money spent has largely been done in vein.
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Operation Warp Speed was a big success. It helped American innovators develop effective and safe vaccines rapidly so schools and businesses could reopen safely. The vaccines have been available to every adult, free of charge, for months. Those who want to get vaccinated have, in large part, done so.
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In Ohio, the vaccination effort has been fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government, including $105 million from the CDC of which three quarters was earmarked to be spent on building vaccine awareness in minority communities.
That money has been spent on several awareness campaigns, including a multi-million dollar lottery where any vaccinated resident would be entered for a chance to win.
So, how have these efforts paid off?
They haven’t. Only about half of Ohioans have received at least their first shot. Ohio is in the bottom third of all 50 states in its vaccination rate. This isn’t a problem exclusive to Ohio. The Biden administration also missed its goal of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated by July 4th.
With the disappointing vaccination record in Ohio, it might be worth some self-reflection in Columbus to consider if the spending on vaccine awareness is really money well spent. But that isn’t happening. Now, DeWine plans to unveil yet another incentive program despite evidence that vaccine lotteries fail to convince Americans to get pricked.
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It’s not challenging to understand why awareness campaigns and stunts haven’t meaningfully moved the needle. Everyone knows that the vaccine exists and is widely available
. Those who haven’t received a prick yet are unlikely to change their mind because a flyer in their mailbox or local radio ad tells them what they already know. It’s unfortunate, but it’s reality. No need to waste even more money.
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Meanwhile, small businesses are still underwater. While there is a new state grant program offering up to $30,000 in assistance to small businesses, that money will quickly stretch thin. Given that the total grant allotment is $155 million, the lifeline will only reach a fraction of the small businesses in the state. Previous grant programs in Ohio were even smaller at just $2,500 per business.
As of last month, more than 40 percent of businesses that were open in January of 2020 are still closed. Employment rates among the bottom quartile of earners are still down 17 percent during the same period. Small businesses—and their lower-income employees who rely on the jobs created by those businesses—have not fully recovered.
Small businesses need help and there is ample evidence that the various loan and grant programs have saved businesses and jobs. There is also evidence that vaccine awareness campaigns in Ohio are not getting any bang for their buck.
Until small businesses are thriving once again, Ohio cannot return to the pre-pandemic success it was enjoying in early 2020.
Ohio must stop spending good money on bad programs. Instead, officials need to start investing in the state’s job creators.
Nicholas Enright is the owner of Broadway Transportation LLC and #Freedom, small businesses based-in Columbus. He is a member of the Job Creators Network.