John Downs, president and ceo of the National Confectioners Association, is calling on government officials at all levels to offer support to small businesses struggling during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In an opinion piece published on Medium, Downs said the multigenerational businesses such as restaurants, ice cream shops and mom-and-pop candy shops are part of the nation's critical infrastructure.

“These companies contribute to the national and local economies in a way that should not be overshadowed by the bailout bonanza for big business currently being considered by Congress and the White House,” Downs wrote. “For many of these small businesses, there is an immediate need for support if these companies are to survive.”

Downs noted wholesalers, distributors and other family-owned companies need “business interruption liquidity” or no-interest loans so companies can make payroll and avoid laying off employees.

“As elected officials at all levels of government continue to take on the major public health challenges presented by COVID-19, our national leaders in government must take every opportunity to address the needs of the hardworking small business owners that serve as an economic engine and driver of job creation in this country,” he wrote. “While we are encouraged by the leadership shown by Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania and Governor DeWine of Ohio, there is still much more work that the president, members of Congress, governors, mayors and other elected officials must do to ensure that the backbone of our economy does not collapse.” 

Downs said the NCA, along with 60 other food industry organizations, sent a letter to elected officials calling on them to officially recognize food manufacturing as essential critical infrastructure, exempting it from curfews and limitations on public gatherings.

“As we all know, manufacturing facilities are not areas of ‘public gathering,’ but are heavily controlled environments that are regularly inspected, operate under strict food safety requirements, exemplify good manufacturing practices and exercise rigorous hygienic protocols.” he wrote.

The NCA says manufacturers of chocolate, candy, gum and mints directly employ nearly 54,000 people across the United States, with the majority of these jobs being created by small businesses. The association also pointed to the 1:10 multiplier effect that supports more than 550,000 jobs in related industries, including agriculture, retail, transportation and others. 

“If the small businesses within our industry, not to mention the broader food manufacturing sector, end up failing because of the very serious challenges we are facing as a country, a significant number of jobs will crumble behind them, causing major harm to our economy,” Downs wrote. “To those in government who have embraced food manufacturing as an essential service for their constituents, thank you for your support of our member companies and member companies’ suppliers, which collectively boost the economy and drive The Power of Sweet.”