Area localities have stressed to businesses forced to close or limited in operations by the coronavirus that the federal government — specifically the Small Business Administration — offers the best potential financial help.
James W. Noel Jr., York County director of economic development, put it bluntly: “(Local governments) don’t have resources, candidly, to make a big dent.” However, the county’s economic development authority was scheduled for a virtual meeting earlier this week to hear a request to commit $250,000 for business aide.
“But that’s not much” in the larger scheme, Noel said. “Our main thrust is trying to help (local businesses) tap into federal programs.”
Williamsburg’s economic development department has a small grant program up to $500, that “has been retooled,” to provide assistance, explained Michele DeWitt, department director. Applications will be accepted until April 30.
James City County does not have funding available, explained Christopher Johnson, director of economic development “because our economic development authority is not funded the way the others are and doesn’t have the resources.”
Johnson stressed, however, that “maintaining communications at any level is a form of assistance. The most available up-to-date information may be something we can pass along (to businesses). Also we’re communicating with each other” to make sure all localities are on the same economic page.
YesWilliamsburg.com, the city’s economic development webpage, according to DeWitt, has created a reporting form that will help with the collection of individual company data to help in pursuing disaster relief from the federal government. That kind of information will be vital for use by the SBA in considering individual company financial grants or loans.
Another important factor is getting city businesses to explain how they are continuing to serve the community throughout the pandemic. The city will then help get the word out through its new Support City Businesses internet platform. James City County, likewise, has created a similar information gathering survey website for local businesses that will be open through April 10, according to the county’s economic development office.
There are three other survey-gathering sites available in all jurisdictions. Businesses in the tourism industry also are urged to take an information survey from the Virginia Tourism Corp., the state agency designed to promote tourism. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management Private Sector Team also needs information from businesses regarding the issues they are experiencing and offers from companies, individuals and organizations that can assist Virginia through donations, in-kind contributions, discounted or contracted.
The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce has an important COVID-19 business resource guide online, as well as another survey platform directed toward basic industries.
The Richmond district office of the Small Business Administration has developed a “Webinar: SBA Economic Resources for COVID-19,” formulated to provide businesses with information needed to tap potential federal resources. Available online, the one-hour program is free and will be held this week. Find out more information at sba.gov/offices/district/va/richmond.
There are a number of webinars set up to assistant struggling local businesses and are available on the economic development webpages of Williamsburg and James City and York counties.
Currently, the SBA offers two major plans: Economic Industry Disaster Loan Program and the Payroll Protection Program. The loan program is available by application directly to the SBA and does not require businesses to go through localities.
Small businesses with less than 500 employees, including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons and certain private nonprofit organizations experiences temporary revenue losses, can apply directly to the SBA for up to $10,000. According to the Trump Administration, this loan will not require repayment.
The $348 million Paycheck Protection Program, authorized by Congress in the $2 trillion economic boost package and overseen by the SBA, requires small businesses to make application through local banks for desperately needed funds to help pay salaries to retain workers and to pay bills during this health crisis. SBA officials hope funds can be released by banks within a few days of an application. These loans are fully federally backed.
The economic development offices of Williamsburg and James City and York counties have been experiencing nearly identical crisis situations.
“We were running on adrenaline the first couple of weeks. We knew this was not like a hurricane or tornado, but would be a long term situation,” DeWitt explained.
“We’ve tried every day to get something relevant to our business community.”