COVID-19 has hit home. Though every citizen's experience has been different, the global pandemic has impacted every business and resident of the Chattahoochee Valley in one way or another.
Everyone is fighting for survival. Healthcare workers are on the front lines fighting the actual virus itself. City officials are fighting for our social and economic security. Educators are fighting for the well-being of our children. The Community Foundation and United Way are fighting to provide relief to those in need. Local arts organizations are fighting to be able to continue enriching the cultural landscape of our city.
And small businesses? Small businesses are fighting for survival in their own way. They're fighting day in and day out to keep their doors open.
We've experienced this firsthand through the process of developing and maintaining our Curbside Guide. We received countless messages in response. Some thanking us, and some requesting more information on how to help local small businesses. So, we decided to contact the team at the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce to ask how we could help share about their services for small business owners during COVID-19.
This was their response.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Special thanks to Amy Bryan and Brian Sillitto for collaborating remotely to respond so quickly to our team during such a complicated and hectic time.
Q: How has the Chamber at work on COVID-19 relief for small businesses?
A: The Chamber is offering all businesses in region what we are calling a “Concierge Service” as they navigate through the CARES Act and the EIDL. We have staff dedicated to helping them find the answers they need.
We also have a dedicated page on our website with resources for business, government mandates and much more. Additionally, we are providing access to webinars that are helpful when navigating through the stimulus relief resources.
What is the most important thing small businesses can be doing during this time?
It’s important they find ways to retool their business model. I think we are all learning to be innovative in our work environments as we can.
(Left) Amy A. Bryan, Executive Vice President | Leadership & Community Development. (Right) Brian Sillitto, Executive Vice President | Economic Development. Images courtesy of the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
What are some of your favorite ways you're seeing local small businesses come together?
We’re loving all the collaboration and support that is taking place—we’re so impressed with the list that you all have developed at the Columbusite. We also are so proud of what Butler, Wooten and Peak are doing through their BWP Cares initiative. Not only are they feeding our frontline workers, but additionally they are supporting our local restaurants that have been hit hard by the closure.
There are really a lot of great things happening—people supporting people, businesses supporting business, even in the middle of a horrible crisis, we still come together as a community and accomplish amazing things.
Also, Mayor Henderson has been amazing at staying ahead of this and providing us with ways we can all still operate in safe ways. He and his team should be commended for being so proactive.
Are there things you'd like to see happening that aren't yet?
People in our community are facing tough decisions right now. We will continue to work with our community partners to provide up-to-date information, resources and opportunities.
Does your organization have any projections or data you'd like to share with our audience?
There are approximately 9,200 businesses in the Columbus region – and the majority of those are small businesses. We have seen statistics from FEMA that indicate that 40%-60% of small businesses close after a natural disaster and never re-open. Because this pandemic is akin to a natural disaster, those figures are very concerning.
What is the most important way that the Chamber can help our local economy survive the effects of the pandemic?
We are encouraging people to support local businesses as much as they can. Not everyone can afford take-out food from local restaurants or make their regular purchases right now, but they can like and share their favorite local businesses’ social media posts and give a positive recommendations.
How can local small businesses support the Chamber during this time?
We are encouraging companies, small businesses, and individuals to continue to be involved in the important work that our team is doing every day. Just like staying at home is an investment in health, supporting the Columbus Chamber is an investment in the local business community.