The Salt Lake Region Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the SLCC Miller Business Resource Center has been working the front lines in assisting Salt Lake and Summit County small businesses from the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. This is obviously an extremely trying time for our business community for many reasons:
- Most were unprepared for a disaster, let alone one of this magnitude and duration.
- Most did not have a plan for surviving any type of disaster.
- Most have no financial reserves to weather even a short-term disruption of business
- There is no map nor clear future path as to how a business can survive a severe, long-lasting pandemic.
- There is no way at this time to determine what amount of resources will be necessary for a business to survive.
- Much information from the government, federal and local, and media is confusing, conflicting and especially more suspect than usual because of this being an election year.
- The future is more unknown for business than at any other time in recent memory.
More than ever, businesses need whatever resources are available to them to help cope, survive, recover, and then grow in a post-pandemic economy. SBDCs throughout the U.S. have been “first responders” to small businesses following every major disaster in the US since the late 1980s. Help begins with assessing the needs, working with the businesses one-on-one to ensure they have the information they need, assisting them to access the resources that exist, and helping them recover through whatever means available.
The Salt Lake Region SBDC was ready and acted from the beginning to help small businesses in this disaster. There was no need for creating committees, elaborate plans, and new programs. We already knew what needed to be done to best help.
We began by letting our clients and others know we are here to help them, then by finding and getting the best information possible to them. As federal, state, and other resources and programs became available, we trained and became quite knowledgeable about them, quickly provided the information on them and addressed questions, handled requests, and worked with them to access important funding. We also served the Governor’s COVID-19 Economic Task Force and the SBA District Office by connecting with and helping the referrals they sent us for assistance.
Although it is too early to tell what positive impact the government’s funding will have on small businesses, besides providing additional cash to stay afloat and pay employees longer. For some, it may only delay the inevitable. For others, it may be enough to weather this storm. However, in the interim, we have helped at least 120 companies that we know of obtaining funding of more than $15 million, which equates to about $125,000 per company. The businesses that we assisted and were funded were across many industries and includes a small artisan cheese producer, a multi-generation family-owned furniture store, a popular high-end restaurant, a donut manufacturer, a resort inn, a beauty salon, a genealogy research company, a flower stand, a tae kwon do studio, a catering business, a commercial door installer, an auto body company, a coffee roaster, a couple of medical product companies, to name a few. One company we assisted was not affected by the COVID-19 crisis as much as they were from the earthquake that hit in March. A few unusual requests for assistance to apply for funds came from non-profits; one that everyone knows had to lay off two-thirds of their employees, and another that provided housing and assistance to indigent drug addicts. Their issue was having to pay workers so little money for a job that became even riskier after the virus hit.
Some businesses we’ve assisted have actually found opportunities during this crisis which may change their business model going forward. One is a beer brewer that has capitalized on the long lines at state liquor stores and the close down or bars and restaurants. They are experiencing better growth than before.
Now, as the government’s funding bucket runs dry, we are already helping small businesses to stabilize and prepare for recovery, which will take a long time. Following recovery, we will help businesses implement disaster and emergency preparedness plans. These are substantial tasks for our small Salt Lake Region SBDC force of only four business advisors and one administrative assistant. However, the SBA understands the needs that exist for businesses recovering from disasters and is providing additional resources to fund three other business advisors to help us handle the high demand for our services that will exist over the next 12-18 months.
Lessons learned during this disaster will hopefully be translated into positive long-term stability for our small business community. Many, I’m afraid, will not survive this. Those that do will hopefully become a stronger version of their former businesses and see many new opportunities to make our economy stronger than it was. Although crises expose weaknesses, they also create opportunities and the ability to convert weaknesses into strengths. The SBDC is here to help make that happen.