ATHENS — Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs programs, including the OHIO Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), TechGROWTH Ohio, LIGHTS Regional Innovation Network and Social Enterprise Ecosystem (SEE) have stepped up to provide increased support to entrepreneurs and small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and response.
Lissa Jollick, OHIO SBDC Regional Director, confirmed that they have experienced an increase of new clients registering for their services by approximately 500 percent or more over a similar time.
Primarily, the SBDC counselors are guiding business owners through the programs established as part of the federal stimulus bill, the CARES Act.
Staff with the programs have been handling a surge of phone calls and emails from companies seeking assistance with how to access and navigate government, industry and non-profit programs designed to support the business continuity at this time. In fact, the Ohio University SBDC will shortly receive additional funding in order to increase capacity to provide assistance to the business community over the next several months. Ongoing funding for the Voinovich School from the state legislature’s Appalachian New Economy Partnership is also helping to support the work for economic and community recovery.
“The overwhelming response from business owners is that they are grateful to get assistance navigating the program information,” Jollick said. “Our staff has helped owners get through the confusion, speculation and rumors circulating by providing them with factual and definitive answers to their questions. Unfortunately, the programs offered through the U.S. Treasury continue to evolve. As new information is available, we are trying to inform clients via our Facebook page and email. Our staff has been able to respond to each of the business requests coming in very quickly, typically within a day or less.”
Kristin McCullough, owner of the Happy Goat Bakery in Lancaster, is one of these new clients who expressed her gratitude for the assistance of SBDC representative Erin Gibson during this difficult time.
“She has taken time to speak with me and respond to my numerous emails, helping to guide me through this difficult and confusing process. Her help has been invaluable to me,” McCullough said.
In addition, OHIO SBDC has partnered with local chambers of commerce, such as in Athens and Meigs counties, to host COVID-19 business resource conference calls and webinars highlighting resources available to local businesses.
“The SBDC held a webinar for us to educate business owners on loan options available and has worked with us to answer questions for many of our local businesses,” said Shelly Combs, executive director of the Meigs County Chamber of Commerce. “We are so grateful to have SBDC as a resource during this time.”
Some of these businesses also are supporting those individuals fighting the coronavirus pandemic. OHIO SBDC client Angie Beck, owner of Boxer’s Bed and Biscuits in Belpre, made the decision to keep her facility open to care for the pets of first responders and essential personnel.
“Angie has made a noble decision to stay open so people on the front lines of caring for our community have a place for their furry friends to play and be happy while they are taking care of our community,” Jollick said. “Now, as a community, we need to take care of businesses like Boxers Bed and Biscuits that are taking care of others.”
Beck noted that the SBDC was essential in helping her remain open.
“Without the help of Lissa Jollick with the SBDC, I’d be flying blindly through this pandemic,” Beck said. “She readily notifies me of new economic relief programs and changes to those programs. She quickly responds to my concerns and puts me in touch with knowledgeable representatives who make things happen. I am always aware of important developments that affect my business before any of my colleagues who do not have their own personal SBDC expert.”
The Voinovich School also created the COVID-19 Business Recovery Resource Center to provide a comprehensive array of resources on topics such as economic injury disaster loans, access to capital, employees, exporting assistance and government contracting.
Ohio University PTAC Regional Program Manager Sharon Hopkins shared that, although businesses may be hesitant, now is the time to explore new opportunities.
“Don’t panic, look to the future, work with us and our network partners like the SBDC to remain current on available resources and assistance with your business needs,” Hopkins said. “Take advantage of any slowdown in your business to work with our staff and qualify your business to sell to government agencies.”
Ohio University programs that work in support of economic and business development will continue to monitor new state and federal resources for small business owners and disseminate information to the regional business community swiftly over the next several months, providing invaluable resources to ensure the support and continuity of regional businesses for years to come.
“During this time of crisis, our organization has hit the ground running to take the lead in providing responsive, informational, quality service. We will continue to do so. As we talk with our existing clients, and new clients to our system, we stress that when we get back to whatever normal is, we will continue to be there to provide business assistance in multiple functional areas, including capital access, financial analysis, market planning and operational analysis,” concluded Jollick.
Information provided by Ohio University.