Taking Care Of Business

Sarah O’Connell

As I write this, we are in the fifth month of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses in the North Country region have gradually been reopening through the four phases under specific guidelines and with many restrictions. 

    However, for businesses that deal with health and wellness, many are still not allowed to reopen yet due to the level of physical contact or proximity that is part of their normal customer interaction. 

    As the North Country region entered Phase 3, massage therapy businesses were allowed to reopen, as were hair salons and some other personal care services. As we all struggled with the isolation and anxiety produced by the crisis, this was a much welcomed development for those who needed the comfort and care that was beyond essential survival. At the same time, the operators of these businesses had to prepare rigorous safety plans for the state of New York and develop schedules and strategies to minimize risk to their customers. 

    On the other hand, physical fitness businesses like fitness centers and group yoga classes continue to be under additional scrutiny due to the risks inherent in gathering people together in activities that might increase transmission of the virus. Some exercise-related businesses have pivoted to offering virtual or online classes, particularly those with certain instructors who have a dedicated following who are willing to pay through an online payment portal to participate in a Zoom or similar digital meetup. 

    While doctors’ offices and medical clinics were open all along for emergency visits or telemedicine, dentists were not generally allowed to open until June 1 except for emergency situations. However, many of our local providers have noticed that their patients are delaying some appointments like routine checkups until later on in the year. The procedure for entering a medical office often involves waiting in one’s car until called, answering questions about recent health issues, possible contacts with ill people and travel outside the area, and undergoing temperature checks. 

    Some mental health providers who already offered online or telephone counseling have been able to continue to offer that support and have even expanded their customer base due to need. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has gathered a pool of volunteer mental health counselors to handle calls from people feeling especially stressed or anxious during the pandemic. (1-800-950-6264). It can also offer connections to local resources. 

    As with all businesses reopened or reopening in the various phases that the state allows, the key to getting customers, clients or patients to return is to demonstrate clear and well-thought out approaches to providing as safe an experience as possible. Surveys and anecdotal evidence have shown that many people are still very wary of venturing out into situations that might expose them to the virus. Reports of uneven or absent compliance will only delay the process of economic recovery. Recent spikes in infection were directly related to unsafe gatherings during July 4th celebrations leading to the reclosing of some area businesses. Enforcement of the safety guidelines needs to be universal to bolster the confidence of the general public. 

    As of this writing, the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) program was still open and the application window for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans was open until Aug. 8. Go to www.sba.gov for more information. The SBDC advisors are here to help you through the application process and beyond. We are also available to help you with any other business needs, whether it’s ideas for recovering, marketing, or opening, expanding or buying a business. We are available by phone and email and can have video sessions as well. As the JCC campus begins its reopening process, we will keep you informed if and when we can resume in-person appointments. 

    The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties. For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu. St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu 

SBDC Offers Assistance To Small Businesses, Disaster Loans

Sarah O’Connell

I had another topic planned for this month, but things have taken a wild swing in the small business world with the COVID-19 pandemic and the efforts to suppress the spread which have included widespread business closures.   Hopefully by the time this issue hits, things will have calmed down, but at this point, we really don’t know how long this challenge will last. The Small Business Development Center however, will assist you wherever possible, and listen to your concerns and your efforts to gear back up to where you need to be. 

     What we do know is that the SBA will be offering their direct loan program called the Economic Injury Disaster Loan.  As of the date I’m writing this, loan applications are not available but should be very soon.  

Here are some key points to consider:  

  1. It is imperative that you keep accurate, detailed records of your revenues and expenses during the duration of the disaster.  Monthly profit and loss statements are one way to generate this.
  2. You will need to demonstrate that there has been a significant drop in profits over the same period a year ago, again, with the best documentation you can provide.
  3. To access the loan program, you have to first apply to a commercial lender and have your loan request denied.  You will then include the declination letter with your application.
  4. The interest rate is 3.75% for small for-profit businesses and 2.75% for non-profits.
  5. Loan terms will be set on a case-by-case business determined by the business’s ability to repay but are meant to be as affordable as possible for the business; thus, some loan terms may be as long as 30 years. 
  6. The loans may be used for payroll, accounts payable, fixed debt and other expenses that can’t be paid due to the disaster.
  7. The applicant will have to provide 3 years past tax returns where possible, a personal financial statement, and a year to date profit and loss.  It is recommended that businesses have completed and filed their 2019 tax returns to accompany the application.

    The SBA noted in its press release that it will continue to assist businesses with counseling through their district offices and resource partners.    The Small Business Development Center is one of those partners. Many of our New York State advisors have worked in the past with businesses impacted with physical or economic loss such as post-9/11 in 2001, Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.    

    We’d also like to encourage you to contact your bank, your vendors and any creditors to let them know that your business is being affected so your ability to pay will also be impacted.  Don’t leave this important step until you are already behind in payments.  We’re sure that this will not come as a surprise, but keeping the lines of communication open will help them know what to expect. 

    We encourage everyone in the small business community and the global community to stay strong and to stay healthy. 

    For more assistance, get in touch with your local New York Small Business Development Center.  We are free, confidential, and always available to help. You can reach the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262.  We’d love to help. 

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