Helping businesses navigate uncharted waters

Chambers of Commerce, agencies set up weekly call for latest info

By Sean Green | Special to BIZ. Magazine

Area, regional, and state organizations are keeping local businesses informed of how they can survive the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the wake of many local businesses shutting down, reducing hours, and/or cutting staff, the first of weekly webinars was held Friday, March 20 to update the business community on the corona virus and what resources are available to them to defray further effects.

The Greater Shreveport, Bossier and African American Chambers of Commerce have partnered to create flattenthecurvesbc.org. This website provides up to the date information that has been gathered from the chambers taking multiple calls every day the past week.

“Your chambers are all working together very closely to provide information as soon as information comes out,” said Lisa Johnson, president and CEO of the Bossier Chamber of Commerce.

Dr. Tim Magner, president of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, added that the effort is about keeping everyone healthy while still operating a business. 

“It’s about finding that balance between keeping everyone calm and safe and still having our economy function,” he said.

U.S. Congressman Mike Johnson (LA-04) was also on the call to provide real time information. He said he and his fellow congressmen spent last week talking with bankers, health care, and energy industry leaders to give latest updates and answer specific questions. 

He cited the healthcare industry as a major concern, noting they don’t have the necessary protective equipment to keep providers safe.

He also noted that the oil and gas industry is in real danger, explaining that the northwest Louisiana area is reliant upon that industry. 

“I’ve talked to a lot of people in that industry and panic has ensued. We’re talking directly to (President Donald Trump) and we believe extreme times call for extreme measures. I’m advocating for an oil embargo. I think we need to turn the spigot to as close to closed as possible to help domestic energy production so we don’t lose the industry,” Congressman Johnson said.

Congressman Johnson also gave an update on the goings on at the national level, saying the House GOP and Democrats are holding daily talks. 

“The encouragement is there is a renewed spirit of bipartisanship. Everyone is acting like Americans,” Johnson said.

However, he warned there is concern on the $1 trillion relief bill as Democrats had not reviewed it and rumors were that another $750 billion worth of items were outlined by the Democrats. He noted that the relief bill could double or triple the current $1 trillion debt for the year. 

“Who knows what this thing will look like when it takes shape,” Johnson said. “I and many others are deeply concerned about this bill. We need to immediately target coronavirus effects on the economy and do so with wisdom.”

Don Pierson, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development, provided an update on the state’s economy. He said while the state has been a victim of hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding and other physical disasters that have come and gone, coronavirus is unfolding like “a slow motion train wreck in front of our eyes.”

Pierson noted that LED is providing access to available resources on its website with an emphasis on local information. He said they are working with the Louisiana Bankers Association to provide a rapid response fund for small business capital by backing commercial loans.

Dana Cawthon, Louisiana Small Business Development Center regional director, was part of the webinar and explained that Louisiana was included in the federal disaster declaration for COVID-19.

Small businesses can access federal disaster loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) immediately by applying online. 

These loans help working capital needs caused by the disaster, pay financial obligations and operating expenses that could have been paid if the disaster did not occur, but do not replace lost revenue or profit.

“Our role is to assist those business owners looking for resources and help walk them through this application process,” said Cawthon. “There are boots on the ground and assistance available if they have any difficulties applying for that loan.”

Funds can be available in 30-45 days and will be directly deposited to the business’ account. Collateral is required for loans above $25,000. In order to receive assistance with applying, you can contact her at dcawthon@lsbdc.org or 678-6142.

Jacques Lasseigne, regional industry coordinator for the Louisiana Workforce Commission, recommended that anyone who is out of work should apply for unemployment insurance. 

“Any employer who is having to lay off people, tell your people who are applying for the unemployment claim to say that it is related to coronavirus because the company won’t face charges that affect their tax rates,” Lasseigne advised.

He also urged companies to fill out a separation notice about any layoffs due to the virus.

For more information, please contact LWC by email via employerservices@lwc.la.gov

Magner added that now, before trouble arises in businesses, is the perfect time to engage with bankers and loan officers.

Lisa Johnson also recommends reaching out to lenders and landlords regarding extensions or variances during this period.

Magner went on to note that the area’s robust medical system could be overwhelmed if it sees a sudden surge in corona virus cases. Thus, spreading out and slowing down cases will save lives, which is the meaning behind “flattening the curve.’”

Lisa Johnson explained that social distancing — refraining from physical social contact — can make doing business difficult when you have to be six feet apart. 

“This is why we have to look for creative ways to do business,” she said.