Partnership Lake Houston President Jenna Armstrong (right) introduced small business panelists, from left, Lori Saunders Hilman, Plains State Bank; Danny Sullivan, Sullivan’s Truck, Auto and Collision; and Connie Chandler, Minuteman Press of Humble. Photo by Tom Broad

Lake Houston businesses which have “ … turned the corner and are surviving are the ones relying on ‘the new normal.’ They quickly flipped to a digital footprint,” said Plains State Bank Chief Operating Officer Lori Saunders Hilman. “Adapting quickly made a big difference for the survival of their businesses.”

Hilman was one of three panelists responding to the question, “How are Lake Houston small businesses working through the pandemic?” at Partnership Lake Houston’s State of Small Business Virtual Lunch-In held Nov. 19.

In response to the same question, Danny Sullivan quoted retired Precinct 4 Assistant Deputy Constable Larry Shiflet, who is now co-owner of The Tribune, “You can never lose or become a victim as long as you can fight it. It, whatever it is, will pass.”

Added Connie Chandler, “My soapbox is how important ‘business-to-business’ relationships are. They are my business lifeblood. I am someone you can relate to, someone you can call. Relationships are huge in business.”

Chandler is co-owner of Minuteman Press of Humble and Sullivan is owner of Sullivan’s Truck, Auto and Collision.

When Hilman talks with potential customers who have a banker located outside Lake Houston, even out of the state, she has discovered their relationships are simply transactional.

“There is no connection there,” she said. “Transactional relationships may work when times are good but, when things change, like during a pandemic, you must rely on those local relationships you’ve developed to get you through it.”

Plains State Bank, it was noted during the presentation, is a preferred Small Business Administration (SBA) lender and the top SBA bank lender in Houston, lending more than $48.5 million in small business loans.

“The economic impact of doing business locally is huge,” Hilman said. “When you shop in Lake Houston, you are contributing to the paychecks of your friends and neighbors. They, in turn, spend locally.”

Sullivan also noted that local businesses help to support several critical local agencies and charities such as Humble Area Assistance Ministries, FamilyTime, Rotary, Family Promise and Humble ISD, to name just a few.

“When you buy local, you’re also contributing to our tax base and our infrastructure,” he said.

Partnership President Jenna Armstrong encouraged viewers, especially during the holiday season, to take selfies of themselves shopping local using the hashtags #shopsmall and #shoplakehouston.

“We’ll pick up those hashtags and showcase them on our social media platforms,” Armstrong said.

Before the panel discussion, Bob Charlet, market president and publisher of the Houston Business Journal, praised small businesses as the core of America’s economy.

Small businesses are America’s leading source of job creation and innovation, Charlet told the Partnership audience, and 97% of Houston businesses have fewer than 100 employees but make up more than half of Houston’s workforce.

“Houston ranks among the top 20 cities where small-business owners are thriving,” he said, “and these numbers reflect a powerful engine influencing employment, entrepreneurship and policy.”

There are 30 million small businesses in the United States according to Charlet, and 90% of them were impacted by COVID-19.

“So, it is important to be proactive and not wait for things to just happen,” he said.

Charlet’s suggestions:

- Stay current with quickly changing market conditions.

- Be proactive with customers.

- Engage employees and be transparent.

- Stay engaged with the business community and expand networks.

“Business conditions are changing quickly, and it is so important for businesses to stay on top of what is going on and what is changing,” Charlet said. “They are keeping in touch through media.”

The Small Business Salute can be viewed on the Partnership Lake Houston Facebook page. All Partnership Lake Houston events are posted on their webpage, lakehouston.org.

Tom Broad
Author: Tom BroadEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Columnist
Besides being a proud graduate of The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and, therefore, a Cornhusker, I am retired from Memorial Hermann. I am a correspondent and columnist for Lake Houston's hometown paper, The Tribune, as well as a director of the Lake Houston Redevelopment Corporation, a member of the board of the Humble Area Assistance Ministries, and Volunteer Extraordinaire for the Lake Houston Area Chamber.

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