Tom Purcell: Happily making lemonade

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, October 1, 2020

When life serves you lemons, you make lemonade.

That’s the thinking of no small number of bold Americans who are starting new businesses amid COVID-19’s disruption.

According to Philadelphia PBS station WHYY, applications for new businesses are soaring. They’re up 19 percent nationwide and 15 percent in Pennsylvania from pre-COVID levels, when the economy was doing very well indeed — until the daggone bug messed everything up.

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With so many people still out of work, some are using the opportunity to pursue their lifelong dream of creating and running their own businesses.

WHYY shares the story of Philadelphia native Derwood Selby, who lost a good job in March as a food and beverage supervisor at a Marriott hotel.

“I started sweating,” Selby tells WHYY. “How the heck was I going to get some money?”

Like millions of Americans, Selby had good reason to worry. In April, Pennsylvania unemployment reached a historic peak of 16.1 percent — a level not seen since the Great Depression.

But rather than dwell on the negative, Selby focused on the positive.

“Pretty soon,” reports WHYY, “he found himself thinking seriously about an idea he had a few years ago: starting a business selling produce, along with his own line of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, at local farmers’ markets.”

Selby researched potential products. He enrolled in a small-business course at Temple University to learn how to develop a financial plan and use social media to market his goods.

Money is tight as he gets his new business rolling, but he’s determined to work for himself from now on.

I’m rooting for him. We all should be rooting for him and millions of other entrepreneurs who are the lifeblood of America’s economy.

David Pridham wrote for Forbes in 2017 that “startups have been responsible for literally 100 percent of all net job growth in the United States over the last 40 years. If you took startups out of the picture and looked only at big businesses, job growth in the U.S. since 1977 would actually be negative.”

Whatever you think of President Trump, small businesses — in particular, minority-owned small businesses, which had been flourishing before COVID-19 — have welcomed his administration’s tax-reduction and regulatory-simplification policies.

Before COVID-19, unemployment was at historic lows as wages were rising for all Americans. These gains were largely the result of the incredible creativity and productivity unleashed by entrepreneurs and small businesses.

For us to overcome the difficulties imposed on so many by COVID-19 restrictions on economic output, we need to unleash a new class of highly creative, productive and motivated Americans, just like Selby.

We must continue to improve government policies that enable, rather than hinder, entrepreneurial activity, so that our most creative people can invent, build and sell innovations that will improve the lives of the rest of us — and increase jobs, wages and economic vitality.

If you watch too many cable news shows, you likely are unaware that millions of Americans like Selby are toiling in silence to make better lives for themselves and their communities. But such people are still abundant in America, and we owe them our gratitude for risking it all to benefit us all.

Thankfully, we still have many Americans who, when served lemons, happily begin making lemonade.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Email Tom at