Since being fired from the DOH for what she described as her refusal to manipulate data, Rebekah Jones has launched the dashboard “Florida COVID Action.”
Although much of the initial wave of grant and loan assistance for small businesses has wrapped up, leaders say there are still a number of resources available to help owners in their recovery.
Both the Spring Entrepreneur Hub and the Small Business Development Center at the University of West Florida are taking in new clients for free to help with their challenges. The federal government has also opened back up loan programs for businesses, including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Payroll Protection Program
“(We’re) just helping people try to get back on their feet, whether it’s helping them with marketing assistance or loan assistance or any kind of technical assistance we can provide,” said Kelly Massey, director of the SBDC at UWF.
The SBDC received some CARES act funding to hire five additional businesses consultants. Massey said he expects to hire a couple more to help businesses across northwest Florida recover.
Massey said one of the biggest focuses for the SBDC is helping businesses with their applications for forgiveness of a PPP loan. PPP is a federal program that forgives loans taken out by businesses to pay their employees during the coronavirus pandemic.
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“Other than that, we have gotten a lot of people requesting assistance in just marketing, recapturing that market share,” Massey said. “We’ve been helping people figure out ways to try to do that and how to possibly pivot or change their business model temporarily in order to meet customer demand and meet the regulatory requirements of the state and local agencies.”
The next round of application for PPP funding is Tuesday. The SBDC is also actively helping small businesses apply for the EIDL loan as well.
DC Reeves, chief entrepreneur officer for Studer Community Institute, said the questions he fields through the Spring Entrepreneur Hub is also beginning to shift. In March and April, he received many questions on loans and grants to help small businesses stay afloat. Today he’s getting more questions from owners on topics like marketing and accounting as well.
“The pattern, I guess, really is that there is no pattern. Every business has their own challenges and their own needs,” Reeves said. “Really for the most part, it’s a case-by-case basis.”
The Spring, a branch of the Studer Community Institute, is also taking on new businesses to help solve their challenges and connect them with resources. The intake form is available on the Spring’s website, thespringpensacola.com.
“They can say ‘hey this is my business. Here’s what I’m struggling with. Here’s my concern.’ They can do that and we contact them,” Reeves said. “We’re still actually operating the triage portion of the Spring, but we’re just doing it virtually on the phone.”
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Massey said his advice for small businesses being negatively impacted by COVID-19 is to reach out to mentors, partners or the SBDC to figure out how they might best weather the storm.
“This thing is still a moving target. We don’t know to what degree that COVID-19 is going to continue to affect business operations,” Massey said. “(Mentors and the SBDC can) make sure that they’re navigating these waters as effectively as they can given the situations and how to prepare for a future downtown that is inevitably going to come. I would say preparation on the front end is the best way to deal with this kind of stuff.”
In addition to help that’s currently available, Brian Wyer, executive director of the Gulf Coast Minority Chamber of Commerce, said there’s still a need for more financial resources for small businesses, particularly minority-owned businesses. He’s hearing from his small businesses that they’ve struggled to even get access to many of the grants and loans that have become available for small business owners.
Wyer is helping distribute a Black-owned small business grant from SCI. Of the 125 applicants, a total 96 of the applications hadn’t received any state or federal grants or loans.
“Specifically minority businesses are struggling to survive more because they didn’t get those federal packages,” Wyer said. “(There’s) a tremendous need for it.”
The SBDC has put together a series of webinars on business continuity. Massey said they teach general knowledge on how to move forward as well as prepare for the next disaster, whether it be the pandemic or a hurricane.
“We try to give people tips and tricks of how to be prepared and how to get their business in preparation to deal with that financially and from a cybersecurity, document retrieval and all that standpoint as well,” Massey said.
Those webinars can be found under the training programs section of the website, sbdc.uwf.edu. Massey said the organization also posts the webinars and frequent updates on its Facebook page.
The Spring as hosted a number of webinars through April and May and publishes weekly question and answer sessions on its Facebook.
“We’d be doing our community a disservice if we sat back and waited on small businesses to ask for help because oftentimes, by the time they’re asking for help, it could be too late and it could be hard to recover from,” Reeves said.
Madison Arnold can be reached at email@example.com and 850-435-8522.
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