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Ohio open for business

It would be difficult to argue that the past several years have not been tough on small businesses.

Owners were having a tough enough time dealing with the changes that were happening as more and more brick-and-mortar locations were being forced to deal with a trend toward online shopping.

And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit a year ago.

While the numbers are fluid, Yelp.com had reported last fall that nearly 100,000 businesses across the country had closed permanently. That same report, however, added that businesses and their owners were finding ways to adapt and stay resilient.

It’s a group, apparently, that includes not just current business owners, but those who are interested in starting a business of their own. In fact, according to Frank LaRose, Ohio’s secretary of state, Ohioans created a record 171,073 businesses in 2020, topping the previous high of 130,621 that had been set in 2019.

LaRose explains that he is not really surprised by those numbers.

“Starting a new business is a courageous thing to do,” he said in a video released by his office. “It’s an act of courage in any environment but particularly with the uncertainty of the pandemic we have faced. Ohio’s entrepreneurs have been doing what they do best — they have been stepping up and finding creative ways to deliver a product or service in the free market that consumers want.”

Year-to-year, the numbers were impressive, but figures from February also stood out. LaRose’s office reports that the 16,025 filings that month were 41 percent higher than the filings in February 2020.

“People have been facing adversity creatively by starting a new business,” LaRose added.

“If you were laid off from your factory job or you weren’t working the number of hours you were accustomed to with your service industry job, a lot of Ohioans have responded to that by going out and starting their own business.

“Maybe they decided that this was the time to embrace that dream they have had for many years to have that work-from-home business or have that consulting business that they have wanted to have.”

Now, just submitting a filing does not always mean that a new business will ever open. According to LaRose’s office, new business filings are considered to be new forms that declare the formation of a business entity, including for-profit, nonprofit and professional corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships.

Simply filing, the office states, does not guarantee a company will begin operations, be profitable or create jobs. Still, those numbers represent a place from which businesses can start, numbers LaRose says are important, especially when judged against the backdrop of the past year.

“First of all, we thought, like a lot of people, that we would see these numbers drop off in March and April when the pandemic began,” he said. “We should have known better — Ohio’s entrepreneurs are courageous and bold people who have found ways to face adversity and get the job done.

“We certainly know these numbers that we are seeing are not a perfect economic indicator, but they are a sign of optimism, and I believe that that optimism will continue.”

Whether or not all of those potential new businesses will lead to the creation of new jobs remains a question, but LaRose says there’s reason to think they will.

“We know that a large percentage of Ohioans work for small businesses and that there is nothing really small about small businesses,” he said. “These enterprises that are beginning today, maybe they are a sole proprietor right now, but maybe in a year they are going to have to hire somebody and to bring in some extra help. And, maybe the next year they are going to have to hire a couple of more people.”

There’s a lot going on as we get closer to be able to put the coronavirus restrictions we have faced for the past year behind us.

We’re not there yet, even though more of us are getting vaccinations as the days go by. There are a lot of things to look ahead to — whether it’s being able to attend community events or starting a new business.

“Ohioans know that our state is fundamentally strong,” LaRose said. “It’s a good place to work and raise a family, it’s a good place to start a business, and that’s the kind of optimism that we see going forward.”

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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