Brower: Local COVID-19 response gets an A while feds get an F
I have now met with and counseled 19 Grand County businesses about how to best deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many have been shut down completely or have had their sales cut by more than 70% overnight. They needed help and many of them still need help.
In my efforts to counsel and hear their concerns, one thing has become disturbingly and yet reassuringly clear. The local response and assistance offered in Grand County has been excellent, timely and effective. The federal responses have been shoddy, poorly administered and unfair. Whether it’s on the business assistance front or health action and information front, the same has applied: Local efforts have been strong and effective while federal efforts have been weak, misdirected or difficult to use.
Let’s pick a few examples. The much-touted SBA “small” business loan guarantee program for impacted businesses, funded with trillions from the feds, was mostly inaccessible for the first week, and when it was open for business it quickly ran out of money. And access to that system depended on strong banking relationships that the banks of many local businesses didn’t have. By the time loan requests finally made it to the first round of funding, the funding was gone.
Gone largely, it turns out, to large corporations that were able to take advantage of details in the law that gave them a leg-up on small mom and pops.
So, for that program, we’ve seen middling results. Some businesses have gotten that funding, thanks to local bank assistance. Most haven’t. It has been very frustrating and disappointing for many.
But then consider another relief program that has generated great results in a quick, timely and effective manner. The Small Business Emergency Grant Fund, administered through the Grand Foundation, has awarded $391,831 in Grand County in its first three rounds of applications. This money is used for up to two months of rent and utilities for businesses operating locally.
I personally have seen how this money has quickly gotten to where it needs to go to give local businesses greatly needed help and some sense of security that they will be able to operate despite essentially no business in the short term.
Credit is due on the local level to Megan Ledin at the Grand Foundation and the Business Emergency Response Team (chambers of commerce in Grand County and the Grand County Department of Economic Development) for working together to brainstorm the business fund and a methodology for getting information out to businesses who need it through the WorkInGrand website. DiAnn Butler, Catherine Ross and chamber directors have worked hard on this.
Of course, its local funding that has made this fund possible. Funding has come from Grand County and the towns of Winter Park, Granby, Fraser, Grand Lake and Kremmling, as well as contributions from the Grand Foundation and Mountain Parks Electric. Other anonymous donors have also contributed.
Another effective local program that is now tapped out was Grand County BEDA (Business and Economic Development Association) loan fund that had nearly $60,000 in USDA Revolving Loan fund money for rural communities like ours. That fund responded quickly to many requests and it was tapped out after only two weeks of the crisis. But Frank DeLay and the board worked hard to meet the needs of panicking businesses.
Once again, the key concept here is local.
And then there’s the Mountain Family Center which has responded directly to the needs of locals quickly and efficiently while facing an increase in demand for food and personal assistance it has never seen before. Once again, local.
And while all of us in the United States have been hearing contradictory, wrong and downright dangerous advice from the very highest levels of our federal government, Grand County Public Health and the COVID-19 Response Incident Management Team have been diligent in keeping us informed and putting in place well-reasoned restrictions based on science and local and state-level medical practitioners. Brad White, of Grand Fire, and Brene Belew-LaDue, director of Grand County Public Health, deserve credit for helping to manage those local teams.
I think the state has been responsive as well through the leadership of Gov. Polis, who has been empathetic in his response, and through the Colorado Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) for businesses. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment has also been reaching out to offer assistance, especially when it comes to applying for unemployment and negotiating the state-level bottleneck on claims we’ve seen.
As this pandemic persists, which I predict it will, I’m reassured that we have such responsive and effective local resources. If only the same could be said for the federal level.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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