Many area small businesses who applied have been receiving or should be receiving federal help to get through the pandemic.
For some, though, the hassle comes not from applying for funds but figuring out how best to apply them.
Businesses could apply for funds through the Paycheck Protection Program, created weeks ago through the CARES Act, from a lender approved by the Small Business Administration, or through an Economic Injury Disaster Loan directly from the SBA, but not both. PPP ran out of money quickly, but Congress has approved more to replenish it.
Tom Waters, owner of Corporate Copy Center on the Independence Square, said he laid off 10 of 12 staff members in mid-March and recently received his PPP funds.
“It was a fairly simple process; it went fairly quick,” Waters said. “The bad news was we found it difficult to understand rules of who to apply it to and how you could apply it. I don’t want to pull people off unemployment if there’s not work to do.”
“It’s been interesting and difficult to make decisions. I’m thankful to have a program that provides a forgiveness option if you follow certain directions, so don’t end up with a ton of debt.”
“My bank, before anything was officially released, they did a really good job of keeping me in the loop of what they knew, and I was able to get my documents once it was official,” said Matt Medley, who co-owns 3 Trails Brewery and whose wife has a small dental practice. “We submitted it that first day we could.”
Both businesses received PPP funds. Medley said he’s been able to bring employees in for some hours, as 3 Trails can sell to-go beers, while his wife’s practice laid off most of the staff but is having them do continuing education.
Jeff Siems, owner of Blue Springs Marine, said he submitted his PPP application shortly after those opened and received his funds within a week.
“I was surprised how quickly it turned around,” Siems said. “The only thing was we cut people’s hours back briefly as we gauged the impact” of the pandemic.
Siems said his service team was able to stay open, and his sales team shifted to online sales and tutorials and had their most successful April in sales.
“We actually sold a few boats from never seeing the customer face-to-face; I never thought that would happen,” he said.
One thing Siems said he and other businesses he works with experienced is that more local banks had better initial success than national ones in obtaining federal help, which could be good for small businesses.
“It seems like smaller, regional banks had better luck,” he said. “They have better client relationships. That’s where that local relationship helps.”
While his business has stayed well through the pandemic, he can understand the quandary some others face with applying their federal help and bringing people back off unemployment.
“If you’re a business that truly had to shut down, that’s a real balancing act,” he said.
Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Chamber of Commerce, said his feedback thus far has been that businesses have either received funds or know they are in the pipeline to receive funds with the next round of federal stimulus.
“I’ve not heard reports of being turned down or not being able to get in,” Lesnak said. “Some have decided not to apply, and that’s their own position.
“Most of our members have good relationships with local bankers, and some bankers have been taking in new customers after helping out current customers.”
Lara Vermillion, president of the Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce, said the SBA website crashed from short-staffing early on, but she’s heard of both PPP and EIDL loans being distributed.
Similar to Lesnak, Vermillion said, “I feel like our role has been to get businesses the most accurate information as quickly as we can, like with county orders and the various aids. People have had lots of questions.”
“We have about 500 members, and we’ve been responding to a lot of questions from non-members,” Lesnak said.
Both chamber presidents said that no matter how or when restrictions start to ease, that won’t happen quickly, and business should by now have learned how to be cautious for themselves and customers. Ultimately, consumer confidence will drive an economic bounce back.
“Businesses don’t want to be liable” for somebody getting sick, Lesnak said. “They’ll be the cleanest they’ve ever been.”
“As we open up, I think it will be a week-by-week experiment.”
“I think most realize that,” Vermillion said in agreement. “It’s nice in a Pollyanna world to think about turning a switch, but it will be more turning the dial. I don’t think anybody wants to go back into a quarantine stage.”
Waters said reopening most certainly doesn’t mean a return to March 11, the last day before pandemic restrictions.
“We’re conscious of everyone’s health involved – employees, customers, vendors,” Waters said. “There’s a sense in the air that people are ready to get back in some way. But we’ve already put signs up that request social distancing, removed the self-service copier. At the end of the day it’s changing the way we do business.”
“We were blessed that we were financially strong going in, but we won’t be the same.”