As the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, one of the biggest challenges facing small businesses isn’t social distancing or face masks.
It’s getting workers and making unemployed Gwinnett County residents aware of what jobs are available, according to U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Guzman and Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux.
“Building that awareness and connection to resources is really key,” Guzman said. “We’re assuming that everybody knows these jobs because we’re hearing about it, but they don’t know where to go and facilitating those introductions, hosting job fairs is obviously what needs to continue to happen to support people.”
Guzman and Bourdeaux recently sat down with the Daily Post to discuss the needs of small businesses. The conversation came during Guzman’s visit to Gwinnett County last week to discuss post-pandemic needs with some of the county’s small business owners.
Bourdeaux said her office has been working on small businesses to make sure they are aware of federal funds available to help small businesses in the wake of the pandemic, and to help them apply for it. Her office has also been working on ways to make residents of her congressional district aware of jobs that are available in the district.
Bourdeaux, for example, is planning to hold a job fair this fall to connect residents of the 7th Congressional District with employers who have job openings in the district.
“It just seems like the people who don’t have jobs don’t know where the jobs are,” the congresswoman said. “I hear from them that they’re like, ‘Wait, where are these jobs that everyone’s talking about,’ and other people are saying, ‘Well we desperately need people.’”
Georgia small businesses received more than $25 billion in aid through the Paycheck Protection Program and $8 billion through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, according to Bourdeaux.
“We’ve been very focused on getting everyone through the pandemic and ideally off to a strong start as the economy recovers, but now we need to turn our attention to keeping it strong and keeping businesses going,” Bourdeaux said. “And so, the other thing we’re able to talk about is what are some of the next steps, what are other resources that are available through the Small Business Administration (and) how do we keep our small businesses growing.”
The SBA has had several programs available to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic, including Economic Injury Disaster Loan targeted advances, Shutter Venue grants and the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as well as the PPP program.
“With all of our programs, I think what’s clear is that we’re headed in the right direction,” Guzman said. “We’re trying to shift our priorities to be customer-first, technology-forward and equitable across our programs, not only in the design, but also in the implementation and outreach.
“It was clear from experiences that people had with the SBA that changes that we’re making to streamline the processes and provide stronger customer support are really what’s needed for them to survive this time.”
As the nation emerges from the pandemic, however, Guzman said there are issues, such as vaccinations, that businesses have to deal with. Vaccination rates have to continually improve, she explained.
“That’s how our Main Streets will return to normal, that’s how our cultural institutions and performing arts can return to normal (and) so we need to continue to push,” Guzman said. “The other thing is that businesses are forever changed. Their revenue models have shifted, their whole structure has shifted in terms of operations, and so we need to start thinking about what products and services they’re going to need to survive into the future.
“This past year has been e-commerce and how to market your businesses remotely, and now we’re trying to help (offer) support around supply chain issues and workforce issues. So, we’ll continually try to cater to what their needs are through our resource partners and district offices.”
Bourdeaux said there have also been supply chain issues as some countries where supplies used by U.S. businesses came from shut down. Countries such as China, where COVID-19 first appeared, and India, which has been hit by the Delta variant of COVID-19, are supply sources for local businesses.
“I don’t know if you remember when China shut down and there was this picture of China, it was the flight paths of airlines before they shut down and after they shut down,” Bourdeaux said. “There were no airlines flying anymore as they shut down, and as I’m talking to lots of small businesses and they’re not getting the supplies they need from India because India is shut down.
“We are still really in the middle of a lot of friction and a lot of mismatches really throughout our economy and I certainly think we feel it here acutely in the 7th District where we have so many international ties and we are so diverse.”
But, businesses need workers to meet customer demands.
Guzman said she has heard from business owners who received PPP loans or assistance through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund and used those funds to raise salaries or increase benefits in an attempt to lure employees.
“First and foremost, being able to get that capital and that relief from the federal government to survive also means being able to compete in the workforce recruitment side as well,” Guzman said. “We’re training up our staff in the field and our resource partners, giving them information through partnerships and a whole government approach with the Department of Labor and others to make sure that they have information about workforce training and information about special programs that they can tap into.”