Economic and Community Development professionals are experts at catching curve balls. We do it all the time. Although many of us have not seen a curve ball like COVID-19, there are specific things we can do to support the businesses in our community amidst this major curve ball none of us imagined.
While we continue to realize the far-reaching effects of the virus and its implications on the economy (I’m sure we cannot even fathom the places this will go), there are things we can do. Read on for a list!
First: Think about how we can help small and large businesses in our respective community. What might they need? Where will hidden challenges lie? Put yourself in their shoes and think about this.
Second: Ask them! Ask your businesses where they are hurting right now (yes, BRE on steroids). Ask them where they will be hurting next week, next month, and six months from now. They may be busy but they may also be in shock, scratching their head trying to figure out what to do next, or utterly dismayed. Be there for them. Find out their needs today.
Set up virtual support
Third: Set up virtual support hangouts for businesses to share issues and network for solutions. Schedule a time for certain sectors to gather on a google hangout or other virtual meeting software. Light industrial at 7:30 am; heavy industrial at 8:30 am; call centers at 9:30 am; social services at 10:30 am; retail at 8:00 pm; you get the picture. Facilitate and offer technical assistance where possible.
Fourth: Create an online event which walks retailers through setting up and promoting an online presence. Collaborate with website developers/designers as speakers for the online event. Promote and host it with special invitations to retailers who don’t have a solid online presence now. Facilitate reduced fees for getting retailers connected to web design services which will allow them to get set up online.
Provide financial relief
Fifth: Consider temporarily easing requirements for revolving loan fund repayment. Provide a 3-6-month respite from payments for businesses who are stressed with a slowdown.
Be creative with loan funds
Sixth: Create a special loan fund for emergency support to your businesses. Some tax increment financing district project plans have been drafted with this as an eligible expense. Use existing increment to capitalize the fund. Or segregate existing RLF funds for emergency loans with flexible and borrower-friendly terms.
Communicate support for retailers
Seventh: Encourage retailers to dedicate their first hours of operation to elderly shoppers (such as Dollar General just announced). This way they can shop when the store is cleanest.
Invest in the future
Eighth: Promote for your retailers that people should buy gift cards now to support their local stores. Many have online options for purchasing gift cards.