The Transylvania Times -

By Jeremiah Reed
Staff Writer 

Task Force Created To Help Local Businesses During COVID-19 Crisis-Brevard NC

 

Last updated 3/20/2020 at 8:48am



At a time when small businesses are facing bleak economic outlooks, a consortium of local organizations have come together to try and guide business owners through what is certain to be a tenuous next few months.

On Wednesday, the Heart of Brevard (HOB) announced that it, along with other local business organizations, would be forming the COVID-19 Transylvania Business Support Task Force.

Along with the HOB, other members of the task force include: the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce, the Transylvania Economic Alliance, Blue Ridge Community College’s Small Business Center and Transylvania County Tourism.

The task force was created after a conference call on Tuesday between a number of officials representing the business community, local government, members of the public and nonprofits.

Ultimately, three prongs came out of the meeting – the COVID-19 task force and two other committees – one responsible for dealing with communication lines between the public and the business community and another focused on nonprofits.

Nicole Bentley, HOB executive director, said the goal of the COVID-19 task force is to try and streamline information and resources that will be pivotal to the business community in the coming weeks and months.

“This is a true collaborative effort,” Bentley said. “All the organizations represented on the task force have a similar mission and goal when you think about our business community. We saw this as a way for everyone to work together and focus on resources for the business community, so that we could provide them with as much up-to-date information as possible.”

While the Heart of Brevard typically deals with downtown businesses, Bentley said the newly created task force could be utilized by businesses countywide.

As part of the effort to find out immediate business concerns, the task force sent out a survey today (Thursday). The survey will run through 5 p.m., Friday, and Bentley said the goal was to get feedback from the business community so the task force knew the most important items to address immediately.

“The survey is a way for us to hear from the community,” she said. “We want to know how this is impacting them and what resources they might need that we haven’t provided yet. Obviously, we are focusing on the economic impact of the situation. We have a picture in our mind in terms of the resources that businesses need, but with this sea of information, the idea was to send out a survey so we can prioritize our response.”

So far, Bentley said she’s been impressed with the resiliency of the business community in the face of unprecedented challenges.

“I’m really proud of our community right now,” she said. “We’re showing a lot of strength, and people are showing a lot of support for local businesses in this period of crisis.”

In speaking about the task force, Bentley added, “We are all in this together, and we are offering our full support while we navigate this difficult and unprecedented situation. We might not have all the answers, but we would encourage folks to reach out to us, so we can help them find those resources and get those answers.”

Clark Lovelace serves as the executive director for the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce. As news of the coronavirus pervading the U.S. grew more prevalent last weekend, Lovelace said he was suddenly overwhelmed with concerned calls from business owners.

“I’ve never experienced that in my life, in terms of how nonstop the communication was,” he said. “I think a lot of people found themselves in a lot of different conversation chains, and there was a natural bottleneck with people wanting to do the right thing, but not knowing how.”

Lovelace said he is glad the chamber is a part of the task force and the primary goal is to offer assistance in whatever way the organization can, adding that collaborating with other local entities was a great first step.

“What I’m hearing from businesses, specifically, is that a lot of folks are hurting and scared and concerned about their employees, their short-term outlook and their long-term outlook,” he said. “This is uncharted territory, and everybody is scrambling to figure out how we deal with this.”

Lovelace described the current business landscape as “triage,” with officials scrambling to answer questions and put out one fire after another. One positive, he said, has been the outpouring of support for local businesses during a difficult time.

“I have seen a lot of banding together this past week from a lot of organizations and a lot of people that simply want to see our community stay strong and get through this,” Lovelace said.

In the interim, Lovelace encouraged the public to try and do whatever they can to support local businesses, even if that comes in a different form than is typical.

“I really feel for our business community, tremendously,” he said. “At the end of the day, the best that we can do is to do everything in our power to support the local business community. That may be normal commerce or it may be buying gift cards that you don’t need right now, but it infuses money into those businesses.”

Another key piece of the task force is the Transylvania Economic Alliance. Josh Hallingse, who serves as executive director of the Alliance, said while the organization typically deals with job creation, job retention and capital investments, they have shifted their mission to do whatever they can to help businesses respond to COVID-19.

“Our shift right now has been focused on trying to help employers get through this crisis mode, with the goal of trying to preserve our business community as best we can in this emergency situation,” Hallingse said.

While the immediate attention is going to businesses in operation, Hallingse said there are some smaller business projects ongoing in the community. And while the future landscape is uncertain on every front, Hallingse said developers are continuing those projects because there isn’t a viable alternative.

“Those ongoing projects are still moving along, and I think largely that’s because they don’t know what to do otherwise,” he said. “They’re trying to make sure that if they want to move forward, they can, and that they don’t stop their due diligence.”

Hallingse compared the current situation to an impending hurricane and not knowing if it would downgrade to a tropical storm or become even stronger and develop into a Category 5.

“Everybody is trying to figure out what the long game is because we don’t know the severity of what is going to happen,” he said. “Different sectors are being hit, but the biggest impact has come in the service industry, just in terms of the staffing and daily retail traffic.”

In the first few days of the coronavirus outbreak, Hallingse said he got a lot of questions about the safety of business travel. Since then, he’s heard concerns across the board – from restaurants asking about unemployment benefits for staff, to how to integrate social distancing into the workspace, to consolidating office hours or reducing the number of staff on-hand at a given time.

All in all, Hallingse said, “risk mitigation” has been the common theme of what he’s dealt with over the past week.

The survey may be taken at http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TransylvaniaCOVID19. It will be available until 5 p.m., Friday, March 20.

 
 

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