ST. GEORGE — The St. George Area Chamber of Commerce is leading the charge to help small businesses stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently unveiled, the chamber’s Greater Together Small Business Resilience Fund provides short term funding for small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time equivalent employees throughout Washington County. They are offering up to $20,000 in loans at zero interest for up to five years.
When the loans are paid back, the revenue will fund ongoing efforts to support businesses in the future during economic hard times and economic development to generate community prosperity, including other potential decisions the chamber’s board may wish to support.
The businesses must be based in southwest Utah and hold a current business license in the county. The “gap” funding must be used for payroll, rent, utility payments, upgrades in computer hardware, software and marketing efforts to pivot business models because of COVID-19.
Reporting on how the funds are used is required and repayment begins 90 days after the expiration of a county declaration of emergency.
“This is a coordinated effort between the county, St. George, Washington and Santa Clara cities, and several private donors as well,” Don Willie, CEO and president of the chamber, said.
“It is an effort to invest money back into businesses who have been investing money into local government by the way of paying taxes,” Willie said. “This is an opportunity to take some of those revenues and to support the small businesses who are in most need right now.”
Businesses, Willie added, are struggling to keep their doors open and keep their employees working.
“The loans are meant to be a bridge,” he said. “While the federal loans are being deployed this program … and I have not heard of any businesses who have received this money yet … ultimately we want to bridge this gap.”
So far, the chamber’s efforts have awarded 36 local businesses with more than $517,000.
“This has taken more than half of the fund amount at more than $930,000,” Willie said.
Along with private and corporate donors, including Canyon Media, the parent company of St. George News, private citizens can provide financial assistance to the chamber through checks to the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Anyone wishing to donate can drop off checks at the chamber’s mailbox at 136 N. 100 East or any Zions Bank branch.
Although struggling, Willie said, local businesses are resilient.
“Overall, businesses are taking drastic measures,” Willie said. “But, I have noticed a growing appetite for action and developing a plan to reopen.”
Not rushing to reopen is prudent, Willie admitted, but at some point, open signs will be hung in business’ doors.
“We still don’t have a very strong roadmap in Utah, but government leaders are working toward a strategy to reopen businesses,” Willie said.
Willie said that while this is a terrible time for many businesses, there may be a silver lining for those who have learned new practices to survive and will adapt if a natural disaster or another pandemic sweeps the globe again.
“At the end of the day, we are a community. And that’s what we need to come back to,” Willie said. “Whatever decisions we made four weeks ago, we still have to battle through this and be cognizant of the needs of each other … and small businesses need us now more than ever. Do what you can to support them, because we what them to be here just as they have been here for us as well.”
Ben Lindquist, general manager of Canyon Media, said that regardless of size, the community is responsible for doing what it can during hard times.
“Our company is in a position to lift others up and to be there for them,” Lindquist said. “It is our obligation as a part of this community to help.”
When companies join forces in programs like Greater Together, Lindquist added, it can be a defining moment for the community and its business owners.
“A lot of it has to do with our attitude, our outlook and how we approach our responsibilities are to one another,” he said. “As a company, what can we do to help? What can we do with our resources.”
Canyon Media has been helping by providing free advertising to local businesses. So far in April, the company has provided more than $100,000 in advertising, including 20,000 website banner impressions and 20 radio ads to local businesses through its Here For You Relief Package.
“We have also created a site that has more than 200 local restaurants at St. George Dining to help,” Lindquist said.
St. George Dining is an online hub for ordering takeout, curbside pickup or delivery service at participating restaurants.
“In our business, it is not just a job, it is an opportunity to give back and to be here for our community,” Lindquist said.
Lindquist echoed Willie’s thoughts that while the pandemic has been a challenging time for businesses, it is also something to learn from.
“In any traumatic experience, for a lot of business owners, we think, ‘What can we improve,'” he said. “We need to consider, ‘What do we need to do short term, and what do we need to do long term?’ There will be ways people will adapt.”
Lindquist said the focus should be on customer service and taking care of people in the community.
“Everyone needs to make sure the experience with our businesses is great,” he said. “If we can build on this, on what businesses have done, the better.”
The Greater Together Small Business Resilience Fund includes participation between Washington County, the city of St. George, Washington City, Santa Clara City, the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, Walker Edison, LLC, Cache Valley Bank, Zions Bank, Mountain America Credit Union, Southern Utah Home Builders Association, State Bank of Southern Utah, Alta Bank and other private sector organizations and individuals.
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