Guide to coronavirus help for Columbus' small businesses
Government officials, chambers of commerce and advocacy groups are moving fast to ensure Central Ohio businesses have the most reliable and helpful information regarding the coronavirus pandemic and what help may be available.
Ohio qualified for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, allowing small businesses and nonprofits to apply for low-interest loans of up to $2 million. Businesses affected by the novel coronavirus are being asked to email their contact information to BusinessHelp@Development.Ohio.Gov. The Ohio Development Services Agency wants businesses to complete a survey to measure economic impacts and gauge interest in various types of assistance.
Aiming to be a one-stop shop for information, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce has compiled a list of resources for both members and non-members on its website and created its own survey for businesses in Central Ohio.
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"The Columbus Chamber appreciates the diligence and speed with which the governor and lieutenant governor are moving to protect our small businesses,” Don DePerro, the organization’s CEO, said in a statement. “Many of our members do not have large contingency funds and they need emergency loans to be deployed as rapidly as possible. We are working hand in glove with our partners in government to provide that relief.”
Employers planning layoffs or shutdowns as a result of the coronavirus are asked to share a specific code (2000180) with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to speed the processing of unemployment benefits. Gov. Mike DeWine issued an executive order to suspend the usual one-week waiting period for benefits. Applicants are encouraged to visit unemployment.ohio.gov rather than calling, as the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services received roughly the number of claims on March 23, 36,645, as it had been receiving on a monthly basis prior to the outbreak. Employers may also consider SharedWork Ohio, a voluntary layoff aversion program allowing workers to remain employed during a period of reduced business activity.
The Columbus Foundation has established an Emergency Response Fund to assist nonprofit organizations that are experiencing financial challenges as a result of the coronavirus. To assist residents impacted by the coronavirus, the city of Columbus has created a $1 million fund for food and housing. Franklin County Commissioners voted March 24 to create $500,000 in additional funding for the Economic and Community Development Institute, which in turn will provide $2 million in market-rate small business loans. Commissioners also approved a $500,000 investment with the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio for direct cash support to workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Congress passed and President Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus package which includes relief to small businesses as well as direct payments to Americans.
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SCORE Columbus is a nonprofit organization that provides education and mentorship opportunities for small businesses starting out or getting off the ground. Its services are mostly free or low-cost.
Randy Zipfel, SCORE Columbus’s certified small business mentor chairperson, said the nationwide organization has suspended all in-person workshops and events until further notice, but that remote mentoring, webinars, and a few recently added digital services are available.
On its newly launched coronavirus small business resource hub, SCORE has several live webinars scheduled in April with its national network of business mentors. Upcoming topics include a Q&A with mentors addressing questions and concerns related to the current crisis, and marketing advice during an economic downturn. The hub also includes data and links to financial support through the US Small Business Administration and the new Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“Our volunteers are happy to continue remote mentoring via video, email, or over the phone,” Zipfel said.
SCORE counselors offer business owners mentorship on all aspects of launching and running a business. The nonprofit is still taking requests for remote mentorship and accepting donations.
Updated information can be found online at scorecolumbus.org; you can also read CEO’s recent interview with Zipfel here.
Women’s Small Business Accelerator (WSBA)
The WSBA provides training, mentorship, and other resources to women business owners. Executive director Mary McCarthy said WSBA has organized a business crisis team that is available to answer questions and offer help. Women business owners who contact WSBA’s crisis team, will be matched with a mentor best suited to their individual business’s needs; mentors are on hand to provide coaching, advice on available funds and resources, and even just some much-needed reassurance.
“We want our business owners to know that even if they just need to talk to somebody to come up with ideas, we’re here and we’ll help,” McCarthy said. “Our board, volunteers and mentors, we’re going to be around to answer questions and help owners find the resources that are available, because once this is over, we’re all going to have to hit the ground running.”
The business crisis team, which already includes about two dozen local CEOs, attorneys, and business owners, is seeking additional volunteers and donations for the WSBA. Details on volunteering or donating, along with links to additional resources for business owners in need of assistance, can be found on the WSBA’s COVID-19 Resources page.
Economic & Community Development Institute (ECDI)
ECDI is a statewide SBA lender that provides small business loans, entrepreneurial programs, technical assistance and other services. Last week, the Franklin County commissioners approved an initiative to allocate $500,000 in additional funding for ECDI, which will be leveraged to provide $2 million in market-rate small business loans that can be used for payroll, inventory, or other working capital.
The program is expected to be available within two weeks, according to the commissioners’ office.
President Steve Fireman said ECDI is working to enable its loan application to be started and completed completely remotely, including all related documents, background checks, and closing.
“It’s just the reality of the times, it’s unprecedented,” Fireman said. “We always say we need to meet our clients where they’re at, and they’re at a very different place than even just a week ago.”
Fireman said the organization has also moved its scheduled training and technical assistance online. Those holding active loans with ECDI, who are not currently seeking additional funds, can also apply on the organization’s website for a loan deferment. Information on ECDI’s loan offerings, online workshops and training calendar can be found here.
Evan Weese and Lin Rice are freelance writers.