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Chamber director: Small businesses working hard to stay profitable 

“It’s been interesting,” says Jeff Jewell, about his job during the COVID-19 pandemic. As director of the Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce, Jewell has stayed in close touch with the area’s small businesses, and knows many of their plights all too well.

He’s also working hard to ensure all area businesses are aware that another round of relief funding has come through, which means those who have applied but haven’t received it yet will still be in the queue for, and more applications are being accepted. Jewell says the Economic Development Partnership’s (EDP) site has a COVID-19 page for businesses that want to know exactly what’s out there in the way of relief for them.

Using the village  

Although the silver lining during the pandemic may be that many are becoming more savvy with online promotions, Jewell says for many businesses, what their customers need from them cannot be accessed virtually. They’re losing money, losing employees and trying to stay afloat, and the chamber has been doing what it can to help them make the best decisions.

“With smaller businesses, they want to do everything they can to keep employees there, their health insurance, but have that fine line of how do they keep it up until they actually open up again and start running,” Jewell says. Which is a real “one-on-one type thing,” he says, because everyone’s business is so different and includes individual, unique sets of problems.

“That work has been really rewarding to me. I hope I’m able to help some of our hundreds of members make the best decisions they can.”

Jewell says most of these members are very business-savvy people and only need someone to bounce ideas off of. “Some of it is just being there, and giving someone another concerned business ally to talk to.”

The Chamber is now 370 members strong, Jewell says, which range in size. “There’s Denyo (factory), Centre College and Farmers National Bank, the larger ones, right down to single proprietorship and realtors, for instance. The bulk of our mom-and-pop and 5-and-dime places are members.”

Jewell says that often, if businesses need something requiring “a great deal of expertise in a specific area, he will get other members who are always willing to volunteer and give them a hand, help them out. So there’s a lot of member-to-member communication, too.

Many have had to adjust to doing the bulk of their marketing, communications and offering new services online. And so far, he says, “everyone is getting a little better at it. They’re getting more tech-savvy, which will only help them in the future. So that’s a good thing in all of this.”

For instance, one funeral home in town — Stith —  worked with a state association that sent other funeral homes to them in order to learn how to livestream funerals, and several others in the area have followed suit in offering real-time streamings.

And the online meeting platforms, Jewell says he wasn’t sure about at first. But he has been hearing that many places will stick with it even after restrictions are lifted.

“I think a certain amount of this virtual meeting idea will stick around, and be beneficial for many. Now we know, for sure — you can work from home, and you can be productive that way.”

Newest round of funding open

“I have to say the biggest news right now, since we have no crystal ball to know how quickly or slowly to open — they did just approve a brand new batch of funding for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and the FDA economic injury disaster loans,” Jewell says. They began hitting banks by the end of the last week, he says.

The PPP is a Small Business Administration loan helping businesses keep their workforce employed during the crisis. It’s included in the CARES Act, the federal government’s coronavirus relief plan. It includes loans being fully forgivable if at least 75% is used for payroll costs, and the remainder of the loan funds may be applied towards mortgage interest, rent and utilities.

“A lot of people are really concerned …” Jewell says. They did everything they could to get into the first round of applying for many loans, but before they could get an answer, “the portal closed within an hour’s notice,” leaving many in limbo.

“The good thing about the (second round) funding  is that those who applied are now in line, and others can now apply. So people don’t need to reapply if they already have,” Jewell says.

He says there has been “a lot of political power” behind making sure the funding goes to small businesses. “There was a lot of consternation at first about businesses like the Ritz Carlton and Ruth’s Chris (chain steak restaurant) getting funding, when local, small businesses are struggling. The political will, I hope, is there to make sure the money really goes to Main Street. Which we’ve been advocating that since the beginning.”

Jewell encourages any businesses to check out the COVID-19 resource page, which is linked between all five Economic Development Partnership partners, and is updated frequently with the latest federal and state releases regarding aid. “It’s a really good source of information, which people need to get and not just glean things off of social media,” Jewell says.

It can be visited by going to developdanville.com, and selecting “COVID-19” under the news tab. “On the new round of funding, we’re just happy to see it released,” Jewell says, and urges local businesses to get their applications in. If anyone needs any help in understanding the various types of assistance, or figuring out what might work best for their business needs, he says they can reach out to him by emailing jeff@danvilleboylechamber.com, or any one of the EDP partners.

Jewell also mentions the many challenges local restaurants have faced, and how some of them have been on “the cutting edge and continue to morph on every move from this” pandemic, such as Harvey’s and The Still.

Check back soon for more on how those restaurants have worked to stay open during the coronavirus crisis.