By Will Fairless
Tony Cochran, chairman of the Alabama Small Business Commission, was the guest speaker for last Wednesdayʼs Business over Breakfast meeting of small business owners.
Mackenzie Kayler, manager of programs and events at Opelika Chamber of Commerce, hosted the meeting, which was held over Zoom instead of their usual in-person format.
Cochran spoke to the 20-odd small business owners in attendance about the history of the commission and how itʼs trying to help small businesses in Alabama. In 2019, the Alabama Small Business Commission went dormant before it was moved from the oversight (in both senses of the word) of the Governor’s office to the direction of the Lieutenant Governor’s. Under the Governor, the commission was getting lost in the shuffle of that very busy office, so the move was meant to get the commission operating effectively.
There are 26 members of the commission, all of whom were appointed last November. Their first meeting came just before the coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses in Alabama. “All of a sudden, COVID-19 hit us,” Cochran said, “We scrambled … to find some help for small businesses because we all knew and could feel the pain and the agony that our fellow small business owners were having.”
Cochran and the rest of the commission were frustrated that they seemed constantly to get blocked by the Alabama Constitution in their efforts to relieve small businesses. “We would like to get a change to the constitution that would allow the state of Alabama the power to make decisions,” Cochran said, “Just put it in their hands, put that tool in their toolbox, to help small businesses.”
At the same time that it is trying to effect that change, the commission is working to create a cabinet-level position for a small business advocate. Cochran said that the coronavirus exposed the stateʼs lack of a group or individual dedicated to small business ownersʼ interests.
The commission is also lobbying for Alabama small businesses to get their share of $300 million of federal money designated for business owners, individuals and nonprofits in Alabama. The commission hopes they wonʼt encounter the same hurdle they did in their earlier efforts because this is federal money, not state.
Lastly, there is a proposition for an additional sales tax, the revenue from which would be earmarked for small businesses. Ideally, Cochran said, Alabama small businesses could benefit from larger companies’ (e.g. Amazon’s) sales.
The Chamber of Commerceʼs small business of the quarter is Mama Mochaʼs Coffee. Kayler said that she hopes next quarterʼs meeting will be in person and will fulfill both of its eponymous components.