The Three Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce held a Zoom event April 13 to share information with local business owners as to the assistance available to help them through economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.
The meeting, hosted by Myles Alexander from the UW Extension Oneida County, drew about 70 attendees at one point.
Over the course of the hour-long meeting, several speakers from various agencies explained how some of the COVID-19 assistance programs for businesses work.
Jim Rosenberg, Regional Economic Development Director from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, was the first to speak on the impact the shutdown has had on regional small businesses. He said the WEDC has links to various programs available on its website, including how businesses can appeal a designation of being non-essential so they can reopen.
"Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. We have had about 3,500 requests, and they have worked their way through them," Rosenberg said. "This is a temporary thing. We know that we can't have any kind of economy with all these businesses closed for months."
Rosenberg noted that his agency is receiving phone calls from individuals associated with non-essential businesses who are" looking at other businesses that have been allowed to stay open and saying 'how come they get to stay open."
"And I guess the only way I would respond to that would be to say that we're not better off closing more businesses," he continued. "So, consistent with safety, we want as many people to operate as possible. So if it's curbside pickup and things like that, that's great."
Rosenberg also noted that businesses on the non-essential list should not seek a redetermination "because once you ask a question, you're going to get an answer."
He shared two example of small businesses adapting to being declared non-essential. A couple who travel around to events in the state selling roasted nuts have used their Facebook account to reach out to their customers on Saturdays with live feed and everything. The second business was a small store that had contacted Rosenberg, and he suggested curbside service would be an option for some of their products. He said after the conversation, he tried to find the business online but was unable to do so.
"I couldn't find a Facebook page, I couldn't find a website for the business, I couldn't find anything; they were invisible online," Rosenberg said. "And that's really a way not to be right now. You really need to have a way to communicate with your customers, because customers want to do business with you, they want to help out. They'll buy gift cards and different things. It might be half a loaf, it might be a third of a loaf, but's better than nothing."
He said for those businesses with websites or Facebook pages to "update them to be responsive to the situation we're in right now."
Brad Kowieski, Vice President, Associated Bank and chair of the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation, said he spent the previous four days working on getting ready for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) passed by Congress.
"The federal government has allocated $349 billion to the Payroll Protection Act, and what that does is it allows you up to get up to 2 1/2 times your monthly average payroll for a year to help pay for payroll costs, for utilities, mortgage interest or other items," Kowieski said. "And that is potentially a forgivable loan in the amount you're granted if you don't reduce your employee headcount or reduce pay in total by 75 percent."
As of April 13, $210 billion of the money has already been applied for and been granted.
(According to the Associated Press, the entire $349 billion was allocated as of April 16, leaving businesses in limbo waiting for additional action from Congress.)
"To give you an idea of what this program has done, it is basically like trying to turn a battleship on a dime," Kowieski said, noting that in the previous week the SBA processed $1 billion in requests an hour. The previous record was $1 billion processed in a day, he said.
"This program will put over $200 billion through the SBA, whereas, a typical year for the SBA is $28 billion," Kowieski said, adding the agency had processed 10 times their annual budget in a single month.
To apply for the PPP, businesses must go through a SBA-certified bank. According to Kowieski, up to 39 percent of Wisconsin banks currently do not take part in the program. He said the application forms are on the SBA website. Once those are completed, they are taken to a certified banker, where more forms may need to be filled out before they are put into the system.
"It's a relatively simple process if you've got good payroll records and can show that you had people employed as of Feb. 15, 2020, you can pretty much apply for 2.5 times your payroll," Kowieski said.
The Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program is another program available to businesses and applications can be completed through its website, Kowieski noted.
Melissa Meschke, director of the Small Business Development Center at UW Stevens Point, said they provide no-cost consulting for small businesses.
"Additionally, with all this COVID stuff, we're really on the front line," Meschke said.
She said they are advising people to contact their local SBDC to find out the answers to a lot of the questions that are coming up about the SBA loan programs.
"Those are the kind of questions that we can help you with before you go to your banker or you go to do the application online, we have a lot of the answers in place already," she said.
She said the center also has videos available online on how to apply for either the PPP or EIDL.
Meschke said the SBDC has been trying to keep the most up to date links to sources of additional information available on their Facebook page.
"Don't be afraid to ask questions, that's what the SBDC is here for," she said.
Tammie Clendenning, Lead Economic Development Specialist with the Milwaukee office of the SBA, said that the interest rates on the EIDL loans are 3.7 percent and 2.7 percent for non-profit organizations and there is no cost to apply for either loan. They can be for terms up to 30 years.
She said that there is a limit of a certain number of employees to be eligible for the loans, which is typically under 500 employees. This designates them as a small business and qualifies them for SBA loan.
When applying for the EIDL, there is also a separate form to apply for an advance.
"That advance is up to $10,000, based on the number of employees," Clendenning said.
She said the process the loans must go through do take several weeks, and that advance funding occurs within a couple days after the loan is approved.
"But it may take several weeks to get that approval," Clendenning said. "Any amount that is advanced of the EIDL does not have to be repaid."
She said businesses that apply for the loans have to be patient due to the scope of the pandemic.
"The normal timeline is about three weeks, but normal disaster involves two or three counties," Clendenning said. "This involves the whole country."
She added that even if a business doesn't qualify for either loan program, they may still qualify for a grant from the SBA.
As an example, she said a business approved for a $25,000 loan that receives the full $10,000 advance would only need to repay $15,000.
Clendenning also noted that any business that currently has a disaster loan from a previous incident, such as a flood, will have their payments deferred for the rest of the year.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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