It’s been a year.
A year of heartache, struggle and hearing the word ‘unprecedented’ an unprecedented number of times. But this year has also produced hope, resilience and perseverance in us that we didn’t know we had. One of the most profound ways this has been shown is through our local business community. When the world changed overnight, theirs were the first to feel the effects of this pandemic. Closed doors, shuttered windows, uncertain futures. And then? Creativity. Determination. Resourcefulness. Our business community did the ultimate pivot, and banded together to help each other figure out how to navigate this new world, where online orders were the new ‘table for 3 please’, and personalized shopping required a Facetime call.
Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act
In the summer of 2020, the City of Lynchburg received funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to assist in the relief and recovery efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognizing that the business community is the lifeblood of our city’s economy and a testament to the dreams and successes of this area’s many entrepreneurs, business leaders and stakeholders, Lynchburg City Council allocated $4 million of these funds for a business recovery grant program to be administered by the Economic Development Authority.
Economic Development & Tourism staff, with the Long-Term Recovery Team, developed a one-time fund that offered financial assistance to businesses whose operations were either closed or restricted by the Commonwealth of Virginia in response to the novel coronavirus.
Our team worked with our colleagues in economic development across the Commonwealth to develop the program as all communities were figuring out how best to quickly and equitably get these one-time funds to the businesses that were suffering. Working closely with our colleagues in Harrisonburg, Charlottesville and Williamsburg – and most closely with the City of Lynchburg Commissioner of the Revenue’s office – we put parameters in place to distribute the funds.
Based on these qualifications, businesses were able to apply in one of three rounds of funding between September and November 2020. The first round of funding focused on those businesses most critically affected by Executive Order 53, whose business operations were impeded or closed, with subsequent funding being opened to more businesses.
In November, we launched the Restaurant Winterization Program. Eligible businesses were offered either heaters or reimbursement grants for winterization expenses. In December, we issued $15,565 in reimbursement grants; in February (after severe shipping delays!) we distributed 75 outdoor heaters to restaurants.
A Team Effort
Our team worked tirelessly in conjunction with many other City departments, including billings and collections, finance, the City Assessor’s office and the Commissioner of the Revenue to ensure that the grants were distributed as quickly as possible. We also worked with community partners to provide wraparound services and support to those businesses. The Small Business Development Center provided business consultation and counseling, and Healthworks, Centra and Piedmont Community Health Plan provided health and safety consultations and town hall opportunities. The Bank of the James partnered with us to enable direct deposit for applicants.
In total, 336 businesses receiving funding from the Business Recovery Program and 38 businesses received support through the Winterization Program. What does that mean in numbers? $3,215,640 went directly to helping businesses in the City of Lynchburg suffering from affects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 76% of those were small businesses of 10 full-time-equivalent employees or less, and 64% of recipients were women, veteran and/or minority owned. From entrepreneurs to doctors, manufacturers to restaurants, retail to auto body shops, we were able to help businesses in every part of our City, across industry sectors.
Our businesses aren’t just part of our economy, they are family. Families like the Patels, who own The Quality Inn and The Travel Lodge. They shared that:
“COVID has affected the hotel business tremendously. Hotels nationwide have had to issue layoffs or potentially even close due to the toll COVID has taken. Thankfully with the help of CARES funding we were able to maintain all our employee base and keep the business running. Unlike many hotels, we did not have to issue any layoffs during these hard times. As locally owned property we greatly appreciated the CARES funding.”
While the pandemic is not yet over, we’re starting to see glimmers of hope. Vaccines are being given and case numbers and hospitalizations are going down. We’ve weathered this year together, and we continue to move forward with a renewed commitment to our resilient business community.