Entity: Pinellas County Economic Development
Cynthia Johnson has been helping small businesses and entrepreneurs in Pinellas County for two decades.
Johnson was named director of Pinellas County Economic Development in September. Prior to that appointment, she was the division director of business assistance at the PCED from 2001 to 2021. Her job included managing the department’s entrepreneurial and small business assistance and development initiatives.
This means Johnson’s been working alongside the county’s small business owners and, according to her official bio, as a “trainer, mentor, and educator, she has supported hundreds of individuals with the creation, retention and expansion of their businesses.”
With that experience has a backdrop, Johnson says one business axiom remains true amid the pandemic: be nimble. The companies that have made it through the pandemic, she says, are those that focused on a good customer experience and invested in technology. “In an environment where economic uncertainty is the new normal, companies need to be ready to be adaptable.”
Opportunities: Heading into 2022, small businesses will continue to have opportunities to diversify by taking advantage of new platforms to sell their products. Johnson says companies that are “agile and utilize technology in their delivery of services and development of products and goods will be rewarded.”
As for businesses that continue struggling, Johnson says those firms need to take advantage of agencies like hers or the Small Business Administration, which can help with capital, procurement issues and even accounting assistance. “In this new year, businesses need to have a plan to pivot and this needs to be woven into their business model,” she says.
Threats: But no one believes it’s going to be easy.
Like many — from government officials to store managers— Johnson says the threat of COVID-19 “without question” is the biggest uncertainty in 2022. With the Delta and Omicron variants continuing to spread, there is a looming threat of restrictions and renewed mandates, she says.
These, as its been seen in the past 18 months, don’t have to be local to have a major impact on small business owners in this area: they are the ones who have to deal with the ripple effects. Supply chain delays and a lack of workers, Johnson says, “compounds the stress of small business sustainability.”
Johnson says for small business owners to safeguard against these threats, they need to have a business continuity plan and be ready to shift if and when the need arises; seek efficiencies inside the business and with customers; and “innovate, innovate, innovate — continuously look for ways to deliver products, goods or services, with great quality, customer service and affordability.”
— Louis Llovio