Help planned for small businesses

State lawmakers are looking to provide New Jersey’s small businesses with new tools to help them become more tech-savvy, taking the effort out of developing websites and social-media pages that can drive online sales.

Legislation that cleared the Senate on Monday calls for establishing new government services to help businesses with fewer than 25 employees adapt to what sponsors have called an increasingly “tech-centric” economy.

Among other tools, the bill — which now goes to Gov. Phil Murphy for final approval — would offer small businesses assistance launching and maintaining websites and social-media profiles, as well as help using digital payroll, inventory and sales services that can improve overall efficiency. 

The goal is to help make starting a new business a less daunting challenge, especially for those lacking the type of tech skills that are needed to develop and maintain strong online operations and sales.

“This bill will help businesses grow their online presence and sales, and help them become more efficient as they grow,” said Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth).

Putting COVID-19 behind them
The bill’s advancement comes as lawmakers have been focusing in recent months on finding ways to better support and nurture new and small businesses in New Jersey coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among other measures that won final legislative approval from the Senate on Monday were bills seeking to establish a mentorship program for small-business owners and to create a database listing commercial space throughout New Jersey that is available for purchase or lease.

All three measures received strong support from business-lobbying groups as they’ve moved through the Legislature in recent months.

In all, an estimated 2 million people, or nearly half of all workers in New Jersey, are employed by small businesses, according to the state’s Business Action Center, which is affiliated with the New Jersey Department of State.

What’s more, small businesses make up more than 99% of the nearly 1 million businesses currently operating in New Jersey, according to the center.

Struggling through the pandemic
Small businesses were hit hard by the pandemic, including during the first year, when many were forced to close in the wake of a series of shutdown orders and other restrictions on economic activity enacted by Murphy as part of broader efforts to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections.

Meanwhile, the health crisis also forced many business owners to figure out ways to connect better with customers online, including using social media, something high-profile online marketplaces, such as those run by Amazon and Walmart, were already well-equipped to do.

The bill seeking to help small businesses in New Jersey enhance their online presence would see the Business Action Center work with New Jersey Small Business Development Centers located throughout the state to establish a new program staffed with both full-time employees and volunteers.

The goal of the program would be to “provide continuing assistance with the technological tools until the business has an understanding of how to use those technological tools to enhance the business’s Internet presence,” according to the bill.

Meanwhile, the bill that calls for the establishment of a new mentoring program would link startups and other new small businesses in New Jersey with the leaders of more established operations.

The goal of the mentoring program, which also involves the Business Action Center and local chambers of commerce, would be to share the mentors’ experiences with “transitioning to a new form of commerce, such as transitioning from brick-and-mortar to online or transitioning to the sale of a product or service that the mentor entity did not previously have experience selling,” according to the bill.

Promoting partnerships
“This program will promote partnerships, as well nurture a space where a sharing of ideas and best practices for our small businesses will help (them) not only survive, but thrive,” said Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex).

Meanwhile, the legislation seeking to establish a registry of vacant commercial space in New Jersey calls for the database to be updated monthly, all as part of efforts to give would-be small-business owners a central location to find places where they can immediately establish their business.

The registry, which would be established by the Business Action Center and updated on a monthly basis, could also end up providing a service to communities that are seeking new tenants for vacant storefronts, Gopal said.

“Unfortunately, finding industries who might be well-suited for these vacancies takes time because willing tenants might not be aware of the opportunity,” he said. “This database of vacant commercial space will speed the process and help vacancies fill more quickly.”

Source: NJ Spotlight News


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