By David Griggs, Special to Hartford Courant, featured March 19, 2020

For many small businesses, cash reserves are more an ideal than a reality. As COVID-19 continues to decrease revenues and increase costs, many businesses are fighting for their lives.

And while government agencies are rolling out programs to address the needs of small and medium-sized businesses, our long-term economic health after this crisis will be determined not by the programs we propose but by our ability to effectively deliver these resources to businesses and workers, and we must collaborate and start today.

This is not just about smaller businesses. While larger businesses might have the cash reserves or operational capacity to mitigate the immediate effects of this crisis, all businesses could potentially feel similar pain. If a restaurant cannot pay rent to a landlord, that landlord might not be able to pay their mortgage to the bank. If the bank forecloses, we could see a toxic cycle, not just of business closures but also reduced availability of credit for all businesses. Our community must get ahead of this immediately.

As a convener for businesses of all sizes, MetroHartford Alliance’s stakeholders tell us that timing is important. They need help, and this is overdue. One CEO said, “Low interest loans sound great, but I’ll be out of businesses before that gets disbursed. I need help now.”

We have heard similar stories from peer organizations in cities such as Seattle. As they scramble to put programs and precautions in place, they wish they started sooner.

Over the last week, the Alliance has begun bringing together the innovative organizations in the Hartford region that will marshal the programs for this fight. Our goal is to improve awareness of who is doing what, what is working and whom businesses should contact. We urge businesses facing financial hardship to look into the Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the Small Business Administration. In turn, businesses with less hardship should consider contributing to the COVID-19 Response Fund from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, which will help our region recover more quickly.

We will work with organizations like the SBA, Connecticut Small Business Development Center and SCORE to learn how businesses can quickly get the right amount of federal disaster funds. We also will work with businesses to share best practices on how to keep afloat while waiting for those funds, which might take up to three weeks after finally completing the application. Along the way, we can help these businesses share ideas for dealing with remote work, with childcare during school closures, paying employees on leave and other issues that arise.

Many businesses lack the resources to take care of their workers during this crisis. One small business owner I spoke to recently said he saw sales dip to about 50 percent of what they normally do, which impacts employees and their income. Similar to helping businesses access federal loans, we need to help them access resources for workers. We can help them understand the programs funded by the COVID-19 Response fund and other sources.

If we look at this crisis in perspective and we execute on our programs, we can see it as an opportunity. Over the last decade, we bounced back from the Great Recession, overcoming huge structural problems in our economy. On a different note, two years ago, regions across the country worked tirelessly for the singular prize of attracting Amazon HQ2. In contrast to those events, we are not facing structural problems, and we are working for a prize that all regions can achieve. Yet some regions will do better and access more resources than others. If we can leverage programs like we did after the Great Recession with the community engagement we brought to attracting HQ2, we can seize this opportunity to secure our prosperity.

We know that our businesses need our help as they fight for their lives, that we need to connect them with the appropriate resources. We know that our long-term economic health depends upon our ability to get the job done and that this crisis presents our region with a unique opportunity to secure its long-term prosperity. Only together will our region prosper.

About the Author
David Griggs is President and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance

Photo: U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, right, practices social distancing as MetroHartford Alliance CEO David Griggs speaks at a press conference at the Alliance about the hardships being experienced by downtown Hartford businesses because of COVID-19. (Photo courtesy: Brad Horrigan / Hartford Courant)