As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the US economy, it’s creating an all-hands-on-deck situation for the advisors of JSU’s Small Business Development Center.
“All of our advisors are working tirelessly right now to help small businesses that have been affected by COVID-19,” said small business advisor Cassie Chandler.
Small businesses are vital to Alabama’s economy. According to the Small Business Administration, 99.4 percent of businesses in Alabama are small businesses. Yet, they are most vulnerable during this time of economic uncertainty.
The JSU SBDC is assisting current and prospective business owners in nine counties: Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Cleburne, DeKalb, Etowah, Marshall, St. Clair and Talladega.
“Because we are partially funded by the Small Business Administration,” Chandler said, “one of our specific roles is to assist small businesses in applying for disaster loans – in this case, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan.”
All 67 counties in Alabama are now eligible for assistance under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration. These loans provide working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of COVID-19, providing:
Loans up to $2 million
3.75 percent fixed interest rate on loans to for-profit companies
2.75 percent fixed interest rate on loans to non-profits
Up to 30-year term and amortization, which are determined on case-by-case basis
Financing can be used for fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the pandemic’s impact.
As both a small business advisor and a student in JSU’s Doctor of Emergency Management program, Chandler is monitoring COVID-19 from multiple perspectives. She is working with Dr. Jeff Ryan, JSU emergency management professor and head of the university’s Coronavirus Task Force, to implement a Pandemic Ready program in the community. Its mission is to assist businesses in taking the steps necessary to best prepare for the impact of COVID-19.
“The program focuses on business continuity, which is my area of research in the emergency management doctoral program, during this pandemic,” Chandler said. The Pandemic Ready initiative officially launches on Monday, March 30.
The JSU SBDC has also partnered with the Calhoun County EMA and Chamber of Commerce to create Preparedness Partners, a program aimed at providing a blueprint to help organizations prepare for emergencies.
“This program is an all-hazards approach to business continuity planning,” Chandler said.
Preparedness Partners hosts the "Ready Business Workshop Series," with virtual workshops currently scheduled for April and May. JSU Continuing Education and Outreach provides participants with continuing education units (CEUs) upon completion.
"Participation in this training,” Chandler said, “will assist business owners and managers in identifying risks, developing plans and taking decisive action to better prepare their employees and facilities for emergencies and disasters."
Back on March 13, the same day Alabama health officials announced the state’s first COVID-19 case, the Calhoun County EMA hosted a session aimed at preparing area business owners and managers for the pandemic. Chandler, Dr. Ryan and EMA Director Michael Barton each spoke, telling participants to prepare for a decline in revenue and a reduced number of workers.
"It's important for them to be thinking about these things, to understand the threat, on terms everybody can appreciate and understand,” Dr. Ryan told WBRC after the forum. “And then, to take actions that are protective to their workplaces and their businesses."
While Chandler’s experiences as a business advisor and emergency management doctoral student make her situation unique, she stresses that her colleagues within the JSU SBDC are also actively working to help small businesses.
“I want to emphasize the work of my fellow business advisors and the incredible efforts of the EMA and Chamber of Commerce in helping businesses at this time, as well,” Chandler said. “That's one great thing about emergency management, it is collaborative and interdisciplinary.”
Business advisor Joe Grimes is on the Capital Access Team for the Alabama Small Business Development Center Network. He is committed to assisting small business owners in obtaining financing, especially during this difficult time.
Lindsay Frey, government procurement specialist, is assisting small businesses whose government contracts will be impacted by COVID-19. Ken Grissom, SBDC director, is working closely with the Alabama network, Chambers of Commerce and other stakeholders to make sure all the necessary resources are available to assist clients.
“The disaster loan application website has only been up and running for a few days, but our advisors have already assisted many clients in submitting their applications,” Chandler said. “Timely assistance is absolutely crucial to these businesses. This is their livelihood on the line.”
For more information or small business assistance, contact the JSU SBDC at 256-782-5271 or email email@example.com.