Queens Chamber hosts town hall on COVID-19
by Benjamin Fang
Apr 08, 2020 | 7400 views | 0 0 comments | 344 344 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul addresses Queens business owners during the town hall.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul addresses Queens business owners during the town hall.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to devastate the economy, the Queens Chamber of Commerce hosted a town hall on resources for small businesses.

On April 2, business owners tuned in virtually to hear advice from the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS), Umbrex and more.

The town hall began with remarks by Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who expressed that the state government’s top priority is to make sure everyone gets through the health care and economic crisis.

“How we respond will define us for the next few decades,” she said.

Hochul said everyone needs help now, and that there’s “no shame in asking” for assistance. She urged small businesses to identify the opportunities that come out of the ordeal.

“My heart is with Queens,” she added. “We’ll get through this.”

Deshaun Mars, director of business outreach with SBS, said the agency is offering both a grant program and a loan program for affected businesses.

The Employee Retention Grant Program was offered to small businesses with fewer than five employees. It covers 40 percent of payroll costs for two months. SBS stopped taking applications on Friday, April 3.

Eligible businesses or nonprofits must be located in the five boroughs. They must also demonstrate that the COVID-19 pandemic caused at least a 25 percent decrease in revenue.

Mars added that applicants must have been in operation for at least six months, and have no outstanding tax liens or legal judgments.

The Small Business Continuity Loan Fund offers no-interest loans of up to $75,000 for businesses with fewer than 100 employees within the five boroughs.

Applicants must also demonstrate a 25 percent or more drop in sales due to the pandemic, an ability to repay the loan, and have no outstanding tax liens or legal judgments.

Mars said necessary documents include payroll records, banks statements and other files to demonstrate revenue loss.

He noted that the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) also has a host of loan and grant programs, including the Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Paycheck Protection Program and a bridge loan.

“SBS is here to support your business,” Mars said. “The city is here as a resource.”

Will Bachman, founding partner at Umbrex, a virtual management consulting firm, spoke about a pandemic playbook his company put together. The firm organized a group of 150 management consultants to offer pro-bono advice to small businesses.

“We pair you with a consultant who can work with you one-on-one on a response to the pandemic,” he said.

Umbrex put out a one-page checklist to help business owners guide their response. The checklist includes five main steps.

The first step, Bachman said, is to assess your situation. Businesses should gather information, see what loans and programs they’re eligible for, and what information is required. They should also assess their cash flow, including how much money they have in the bank and their expenses.

The next step is to develop a plan with a comprehensive set of actions and dates. Bachman said business owners should figure out how to deal with their rent, vendors and customers.

Next, business owners should communicate. Bachman advised that it’s better to over-communicate with stakeholders, like suppliers, vendors and landlords.

“Don’t go radio silent,” he said.

The following step is to implement the plan. Finally, owners should continue doing the minimum to operate their business, including paying the bills, handling administrative work and making sure employees are safe.

Bachman also provided a set of recommendations for people who are working from home. He suggested that workers set a place to be their workplace and to set a schedule to “be at work.”

“It’s easy to expand your workday, but set some boundaries around it,” he said. “It’s important to protect your mental health and physical well-being.”

He noted that virtual meetings can actually be more productive than in-person meetings. He recommended setting an agenda, sending out materials ahead of time, making the goal for the meeting clear, and checking in with all attendees.

As for managers, Bachman said they should change their mindset while working from home. They should no longer focus on the time their employees work, but rather the deliverables they can complete.

He suggested being clear and well-defined about the project, the deliverable and due date. For multi-day projects, he said managers should have periodic chances for feedback on the deliverables.

“Don’t wait until Friday,” he said.

To get a small business perspective, Sher Sparano, senior vice president of OneGroup, spoke about the impact COVID-19 has had on her team, which is working from home.

She said the pandemic has been hard on her company, especially because they work with nonprofits and hospitals.

“We’re trying to be there for them,” she said.

Sparano urged everyone to stay upbeat, despite the health care and economic ramifications of the crisis.

“It would be helpful if you have a little bit of positive in your step,” she said. “There is a real thrust for us to survive this.”

She noted that many people and organizations, including the chamber, will put in a major effort to pull businesses back together, despite the “long climb back.”

Sparano said many businesses hurt by the pandemic will find a way to reopen and restructure, but acknowledged that some will decide they can’t afford to do it. She also expressed worry about the fate of restaurant workers, health care aides and nursing home employees.

But she has also noticed the way communities have been responding, especially to care for frontline workers.

“People have been helping others in a tremendous way,” she said. “They’re lending a hand when they can.”

Even people who are sick and in self-quarantine are staying home and following the rules. She said those people are heroes as well.

“The kindness we show each other is most important,” Sparano said.
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