Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center creates programs to help small businesses plan for post-coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of problems for small businesses in the area but the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center is stepping up to provide resources.

During a virtual work session Monday, the Williamsburg City Council heard a presentation from the center about ways the organization and small businesses in the area can prepare themselves for once the pandemic passes.

“We don’t want to tell small business owners what to think, we want to tell them how to think,” said Jim Carroll III, executive director of the center. “And to take a hard look at the situation both physical and financial and mental and emotional states across the board…they need to make a key set of assumptions right up front so that they can go back and use that as a baseline.”

Carroll compared the current situation to the 1999 flooding of Blackwater River in Franklin, which decimated part of the area.

“I thought I had seen it all,” he said. “The physical devastation was total, but fortunately the devastation was localized to the downtown section of Franklin [and] the city eventually recovered…We now have an entirely different situation.”

Instead of the physical devastation that occurred in Franklin, there is now psychological damage that pertains not just to the small business owners but their employees and their customers which brings more factors into consideration, such as whether they even want to reopen.

While some businesses might want to jump back into their regular activities, Caroll said unfortunately many won’t be able to do so if they don’t have the framework to make decisions.

Businesses have essentially four options: to reopen, to close, to sell or merge, or to reinvent their businesses. Each option has risks associated with them, but the goal is to help businesses make the decision based on facts and not gut feelings.

Caroll said when the pandemic started, Virginia was awarded $4 million as part of the CARES Act which would help bring about a “shadow organization” as part of the Small Business Development Center that was intended solely for working with small business owners who have been impacted.

The SBDC has hired additional staff, created new tools and developed new programs to help small businesses.

The first two elements addressed for small businesses was access to information and access to capital. The SBDC hired a retired bank vice president, who assisted clients in understanding the intricacies of the lending process, such as the Payroll Protection Program.

A new partnership was also formed between the organization and students with William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business, which is offering free crisis support services.

Carroll said the initial consultation helps a business and its adviser to figure out the cash flow, the market and what actions are available. 

But Carroll expects there to be various changes to the elements in the next six months, which is why it’s important for small businesses to use local resources and create a plan.

Resources available to small businesses in the area include the Mason School of Business, the Williamsburg Economic Development, the Small Business Development Center, Greater Williamsburg Partnership and the Service Corps of Retired Executives.

For more information on resources and tools for small businesses, visit the Hampton Roads SBDC new webpage, COVID-19 & Virginia Small Businesses.

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