Washington's small businesses are entering a new era as our state and nation face a global pandemic.

Today it's critical that we support our local small businesses, and all Washington employers, to ensure a strong economic future for our state.

Our state's small businesses are the foundation of our economy, and they've been impacted hard and fast by the coronavirus.

More than 590,000 small employers support more than 1.3 million jobs in every county, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports. Those businesses are everything from custom manufacturers and auto repair shops to trucking firms, local restaurants, hardware stores and breweries.

Today many of these jobs and the families that count on them are facing the biggest economic challenge in generations.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, our local chamber of commerce partners in the Grassroots Alliance began sharing stories about smaller firms cutting back. Some restaurants adjusted quickly by offering curbside or drive-through service.

A few weeks later thousands of people across the state lost their jobs or had their hours cut as restaurants, bars and other public-facing venues were closed to contain the coronavirus. Unemployment claims dramatically exceeded any records from the Great Recession a decade ago.

In mid-March AWB quickly surveyed our members and found that more than 70% experienced a drop in revenue. By then many employers had reduced hours, delayed hiring, moved staff to remove work and cancelled meetings and travel. Additionally, of the manufacturers who responded, more than half reported supply chain disruptions and 81% said they enacted changes to their operations.

In early March AWB partnered with the Washington State Labor Council to urge Congress to pass a historic and comprehensive federal relief package, including support to employees, to help our country navigate this challenge. At AWB we won't rest until major help for all Washington employers is a reality.

There's no doubt that the damage to Washington's small business community was sweeping, unprecedented and incredibly fast. Yet at the height of the crisis, before Congress had passed any comprehensive relief for small businesses, Washington's employers were stepping up to do the right thing.

On March 20 AWB issued a survey to our members. We asked if they could transition their business to manufacture critical medical equipment to help fight the pandemic. Dozens of employers said yes.

The list was comprehensive: Modular hospitals and quarantine rooms. N95 masks and face shields. Ventilators and custom electronics. Hand sanitizer, labeling and stickers, custom metal parts. Hospital carts and cases to store equipment. Boxes and labels for shipping.

One comment stood out, and exemplified the spirt of Washington's employer community: "We are open to producing anything."

Washington's employers are in this fight against COVID-19 for the long haul. Employers are rising to the challenge, and are ready to repurpose their factories and shop floors just like our country did in World War II.

I've spoken to many CEOs and I'm convinced of their commitment to help our state. From making medical supplies to supporting family wage jobs, our employers will help us navigate this time of great change.

And when our world emerges on the other side of a global pandemic, our small businesses will be leading the recovery.

For now, let's support our small businesses any way we can.

Every successful company starts with an idea and an entrepreneur willing to take a risk. These employers create and support the jobs that sustain our communities.

During this challenging time, let's make sure they know that Washington has their back.

Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association. He can be reached at krisj@awb.org.

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