Reed, Woodfin highlight small business relief efforts in their cities
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin outlined their cities’ respective efforts to aid small businesses during a regional teleconference Wednesday night.
Hosted by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the teleconference included numerous black leaders from across the Southeast.
SBA regional administrator Ashley Bell, an Entrepreneurship Policy Advisor for the White House Opportunity & Revitalization Council, noted that “the clock is ticking before the lights go out” on many minority-owned small businesses suffering as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Woodfin pointed out that, in his city, “90% of our businesses only had 14 days of cash buffer in the bank prior to COVID-19.”
He assessed the situation as critical.
“Our small businesses are struggling, have been struggling,” Woodfin remarked. “Many will be forced to close if we did not do anything locally. There was no cavalry coming.”
To begin providing assistance, the City of Birmingham formed a public-private partnership called #BhamStrong. Under the program, contributions from the private sector helped to form a $2.4 million pool of funds from which small businesses could pull for relief.
Woodfin said the program has provided 90 businesses with low-interest loans for six-month periods. Out of those, 51% are minority-owned and 41% are owned by women, according to him.
The city has also formed a partnership with Hope Credit Union and Goldman Sachs to facilitate access to SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Woodfin said the partnership has served 52 Birmingham businesses.
“Our whole goal is very simple, we have to do everything we can to invest in and protect black businesses in our community,” Woodfin said.
In Montgomery, Reed said some of the shortfalls of PPP have led the city to establish some of its own programs for small business relief.
“What we’ve done here in Montgomery is we’ve developed economic and community impact task forces to really look at not only the financial but the socioeconomic impact of this pandemic on our city and look at ways we can restore Montgomery’s vibrant economy and help those who are most impacted,” he stated.
Among the community programs the city of Montgomery has undertaken are free mask giveaways and testing partnerships with Hyundai and Alabama State University.
Reed, a member of the board of advisors at a regional bank, mentioned that he and his team have performed significant outreach to the private sector to encourage their involvement in assisting small businesses.
“We’ve challenged our bankers to really look at those disadvantaged businesses, look at the high-need communities and those entities that are serving in those areas that did not have access to some of the traditional loans and see if we can help them,” he explained. “We have had tremendous success in doing that.”
Guidance on how to navigate what can be an overwhelming process is an additional resource the city is helping to provide, according to Reed.
“We have also established an opportunity with our chamber of commerce by pulling together trained professionals that are doing an initial triage, consultation over the phone with business owners,” he explained. “When necessary they are scheduling follow-up appointments to assist these business owners in how to get their documents before the financial institutions. What information do they need that they don’t have right now and how to connect these dots for them.”
Coming soon will be a local fund from which Montgomery small businesses can gain access to resources.
Reed outlined that the hub the city has set up for all of the relevant information is MGMReady.com and that his work on behalf of his city’s small businesses will continue in the coming weeks and months.
“We know that help is still needed,” Reed concluded. “This shortfall impacts those entrepreneurs, workers and small businesses. So while national retailers and chains might be able to rebound, for businesses in Montgomery, we know that is not always the case. So we are always looking for good ideas that we can implement.”
Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia