How the Valley’s Small Businesses Can Weather ‘Unforeseen Challenges’ of COVID-19 [UPDATED]
Small businesses – and their customers – should act fast to help blunt the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a local economic development expert says.
“There are several things businesses can do to now,” said Aaron White, economic development manager for the City of Eau Claire. “First, I would suggest that businesses reach out to their current banking institution, particularly if you have a business loan. There may be ways that your bank can provide assistance as your business faces these unforeseen challenges.”
White said several business assistance programs are already being launched, so business owners should have their financial records ready to go – particularly records that compare current revenues to the same period last year (for example, beginning Jan. 31, 2019).
“Many businesses are just now feeling a drop, so they should also focus on projects for the next 3-36 months, particularly if their business is affected by mandated shutdowns at the state or federal level,” White said.
Small businesses seeking assistance should be aware of two programs, White said:
• The first is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Under this program, small businesses and nonprofits will be able to get low-interest loans up to $2 million to continue to operate. More information (including a guide to applying) can be found online at https://www.downtowneauclaire.org/coronavirus-aid-and-support/. You can also apply for a loan directly at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Information/EIDLLoans.
• Secondly, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has announced the Small Business 20/20 Program. White said this program will provide small grants to targeted small businesses whose cash flow has suffered because of COVID-19. Grant applications will be handled by select Community Development Financial Institutions, which will be named in the near future, White said. Learn more here: https://wedc.org/programs-and-resources/small-business-2020/
And while businesses need to act fast to take advantage of opportunities, they also should be patient, White added. “Resources are coming on line to assist, and there are many dedicated professionals working very hard to get these programs and funds into the hands of the people who need them most,” he said. “I would also urge residents to continue to support each other, to follow the guidelines set out by the City-County Health Department regarding prevention practices, and to continue to seek out ways to support our local businesses. By supporting each other, we will come through this crisis as a community that is stronger than ever.”
Everyday consumers can help in the effort, too: “There are still plenty of opportunities to support our local businesses,” White said. “Many are adopting services for customers that they never offered before: carry-out, curbside delivery, even home delivery. Many of our retailers have great online stores, and are offering specials. I would encourage residents to check out these businesses through any of the support sites that have been created ... and keep showing support for our local owners through buying gift cards, certificates, and online orders.”
Here are some local websites that have sprung up providing lists of small businesses – including restaurants and retailers – that are operating via carry-out, online sales, etc.:
Downtown Eau Claire Inc. “Support Eau Claire”: https://www.downtowneauclaire.org/coronavirus-aid-and-support/
Chippewa Valley Business Community COVID-19 Resource: https://www.facebook.com/groups/504041823806583/
Volume One “Save Your Faves”: https://volumeone.org/articles/2020/03/18/34898_save_your_faves
Menomonie Area Carry Out, Curbside and Drive-Thru: https://www.facebook.com/groups/205463960797448/
Downtown Eau Claire Inc. has assembled a page of additional resources for businesses facing these challenging times: https://www.downtowneauclaire.org/coronavirus-aid-and-support/
The Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce has a COVID-19 resource page for the community (https://www.eauclairechamber.org/covid-19-information.html) as well as a detailed page of resources for businesses (https://www.eauclairechamber.org/eau-claire-chamber-blog/covid-19-state-federal-officials-organizations-advancing-measures-to-help-businesses).
The Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp. offers COVID-19 resources for businesses in need of assistance for themselves and their employees: https://www.eauclaire-wi.com/COVID-19/