Weathering the Storm: Collaboration & Innovation Key to Small Business Recovery

By Kathryn M. Miller ~ National Small Business Week has been postponed. The U.S. Small Business Administration event, originally scheduled for May 3–9, is an annual celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation. Never has there been a greater time for innovation in the small business community, nor a better time for recognition at all levels of our local small businesses.

There are more than 550,000 small businesses, (those with fewer than 500 employees) in Arizona, and it is estimated that these businesses employ one million workers, representing 44.5 percent of the state’s private workforce.

Studies show that when residents buy local, it makes a difference. But what happens when a crisis hits — and businesses are closed, or scramble to change their business model in an effort to meet demands or just stay afloat? At press time, Arizona is still under the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected” Executive Order, which is set to expire April 30. Whether or not safety restrictions are lifted in May, the small business landscape has been forever altered, and the community is looking for help.

Representing more than 3,000 businesses across the state, Local First Arizona (LFA) is just one organization that is stepping up to provide resources for businesses that are experiencing the challenging impacts of COVID-19.

“As you could imagine, most businesses, if not all, have been impacted in a major way from the COVID-19 crisis, so we have stepped in to provide direct consulting to any business that needs support at this time,” said executive director Thomas Barr.

“All businesses are different and dealing with different things and so we’ve taken a personalized approach to consulting with them. This could be helping them apply for loans through the federal government, making them aware of other grants or loans that are available in their cities or towns, and connecting them to professionals that can help them with deeper questions in legal services, accounting, HR, or even PR and marketing, even business coaching.”

Although the services are offered to members of the organization, they have opened up the membership program for any business that is unable to afford to join.

“We launched a sponsor a business program open to people in the community about a month ago and have had over 300 businesses sponsored to become a part of Local First and get access to these resources at no cost.”

The organization is also active in providing current information and resources to the community in general through its COVID-19 webpage. (www.localfirstaz.com/covid19)

“This is something that is just available to the community and will continue to be a resource, and anybody can access it. This includes up-to-date information from the Small Business Administration, information about jobs that are available for people looking, through our partners at Pipeline AZ (www.pipelineaz.com), and a wide variety of information and resources that we’ve collected to be able to communicate to the community.”

LFA is also collaborating with industry-specific organizations such as the Arizona Small Restaurant Coalition (www.arizonasrc.com) and National Independent Venue Association (www.nivassoc.org) to help spread awareness of available resources.

“We are collaborating at every opportunity possible,” said Barr. “We are getting on board with, linking arms with them, and spreading the word.”

Another resource that the LFA team quickly put together is a Support Local website, a portal where community members can find businesses that are open and offering gift cards, delivery and curbside pick-up, and more. (www.supportlocal.xyz)

“Small businesses have always shown up for us, and it’s now our time. If you have the means, you really need to show up for them so that they reopen once we go to rebuild the economy. We can’t take them for granted. At every opportunity, we need to support them and involve them so that we don’t see more businesses close permanently.” |CST

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