How Local Governments Are Working to Keep Small Business Alive

Federal relief funds have been committed but many small businesses do not have the cash flow to survive.

By Ellen Foreman + ICMA Connect | Apr 2, 2020 | BLOG POST
small business holding open sight

Although the federal government has committed some financial relief resources to support small business, local government leaders are trying to keep their commercial sectors alive in the face of mandated customers and lack of customers. ICMA Weekly Community Conversations: Economic Recovery is available as a podcast and features some great resources including this website from ICMA partner the International Economic Development Council.  The top concern among small business is no surprise—cash flow. ICMA members have shared some great ideas via our member community, ICMA Connect.

Here are ideas and resources to share:

  1. Be a source of information to your business community. Many local governments have established webpages and webinars to share resources as they become available. Here are examples from Palo Alto and this comprehensive small business portal from Maplewood, New Jersey.
  2. Team up with others to start a small business fund. Buncombe County, Asheville, and Montreat, North Carolina, as well as Biltmore Lake Charitable Fund, Explore Asheville, and Ramble Charitable Fund, are working with the Asheville-Area Chamber of Commerce, Mountain BizWorks, and the Land of Sky Regional Council to launch the One Buncombe Fund, a centralized COVID-19 donation and relief center that provides bridge funding to small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis. Eligible uses include payroll, accounts payable, fixed debts, or other bills the business is unable to pay due to COVID impact.  Here’s another example of jurisdictions joining forces to provide funds for struggling businesses.
  3. Establish an eviction moratorium. A number of localities are issuing temporary freezes on evictions for small- and medium-sized businesses due to lost income related to COVID-19. These actions can be taken as part of a local emergency declaration.
  4. Promote and support your local businesses. Clarksville, Indiana, is one of many localities taking action to promote local businesses by publicizing with street signs that the business is open. In State College, Pennsylvania, the local government partnered with the Downtown State College Improvement District and the local chamber of commerce to be a resource for all small businesses to offer free gift cards when residents buy a gift card from local businesses. In addition, the metered parking is now free and parking spots for food service pick ups are designated.  
  5. Swap out inspections and penalties for wellness checks…and gather valuable data. The Rancho Cucamonga Fire District in California is working to maintain safety in local businesses without burdening them with a formal inspection that often results in the need for corrections that incur additional costs. By doing wellness checks, serious fire and life safety issues will continue to be addressed and they have a spinoff benefit. The information gathered from businesses about sales, staffing, and general operations is shared with the Rancho Cucamonga's Economic Development Division. The data has been helpful in gauging the depth of reductions in sales and staffing and has also identified some bright spots in the local economy that include increased demand, production, sales, and staffing, which in turn helps focus recovery efforts along with current and future resources available where they are needed. The city is also suspending license renewal fees for 120 days. The city of Toledo suspended payments for its revolving loan funds for six months.  
  6. Gather data to make the case for funding. In Sullivan County, New York, the focus is on gathering the data needed to inform future efforts. The county has partnered with the county visitors' association, chamber of commerce, and two economic development agencies to form a Recovery Working Group that has sent out needs assessment surveys to all of their member businesses. The group is hoping to use this data to help streamline business's access to capital and make a unified case for support to the state and federal governments. Pearland’s Economic Development Corporation has launched a COVID-19 Impact Study to learn all they can about how the virus is affecting their companies. ICMA Strategic Partner Polco/NRC is offering free survey resources to help gather feedback.
  7. Help an offline small business go online. Small businesses that have been operating out of store fronts are looking for help getting their business online. Your local government could help make connections through webinars and local support networking.
  8. Buy local. If there were ever a time to support your local businesses with your personal and local government resources, it’s now. The Braintree, Massachusetts, Police Department buys its takeout meals from one restaurant one day. Then the next day they go to another one to help them stay afloat!

Thanks to all of the contributors to this article, who joined in the conversation on ICMA Connect, including Eric Hardy, director of performance management, Buncombe County, NC; Kevin Baity, town manager, Clarksville, IN; Rob Ball, fire marshal, Rancho Cucamonga Fire District and Lori Sassoon, deputy city manager, Rancho Cucamonga, CA; Douglas Shontz, assistant to the manager, State College, PA; John Liddle, deputy county manager, Sullivan County, NY; Catherine Crosby, chief of staff, City of Toledo, OH, and Glenn Michalowski, assistant township administrator, Maplewood, NJ.


Are you ready to join the discussion?

ICMA Connect provides ICMA members with the support network of over 12,000 local government professionals and stakeholders around with world. This member-only community gives our members the opportunity to connect with each other regardless of location, share resources and ideas, and discuss issues that are central to the effective management and advancement of our communities. Join the growing list of members who've added this community as a go-to resource in leading their organizations and communities through challenging times.

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