Business League Hosts Virtual Recovery and Relief RoundtableBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / May 14, 2020
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With the state of North Carolina slowly heading towards reopening, local organizations are collaborating to assist COVID-19 recovery efforts in Guilford County.
The Greensboro Business League (GBL) held a virtual meeting on May 7 that attracted 55 participants waiting to receive updates on local COVID-19 recovery efforts. Members of the GBL, clergy, business leaders, and local and state lawmakers shared COVID-19 recovery plans underway to support minority communities.
Established by a group of African American business and community leaders, the mission of the Greensboro Business League is to promote African American businesses through collaboration and facilitation of government and business compliance with local, state and federal minority business enterprise and anti-trust laws and regulations.
Piedmont Business Capital (PBC) is one local funding entity providing micro-grants and support for small businesses in the recovery phase. Among other donations, PBC received $460,000 from the City of Greensboro to help funnel funds to businesses.
“Small businesses are going to need support beyond from when they reopen,” said Wilson Lester, executive director of Piedmont Business Capital. “They will need technical assistance in restarting their businesses and redefining their business model so they can be competitive and thrive in this new business culture going forward.”
Sharon Hightower, District 1 City of Greensboro Council member shared that the city is working diligently to support small businesses and protect citizens’ health in the coming weeks. The city has set up a COVID-19 testing site at Barber Park in order to serve East Greensboro communities.
“We’re right now dealing with how to socially reopen in a responsible way that people understand it’s still a serious issue,” said Hightower.
She also encouraged GBL members to continue to monitor the City of Greensboro Minority and Women’s Enterprise program about which city projects are still going and which have been bid on, both with and without minority participation.
“To minority small businesses, while we deal with the virus, let us not forget our M/WBE program at the city and make sure that we still continue to get work through the city,” said Hightower.
District 8 Guilford County Commissioner Melvin “Skip” Alston shared that the board has discussed how to use the $93.7 million in federal funding to assist with COVID-19 recovery efforts. At the county commissioner’s May 7 meeting, it was proposed that $30 million go to recover county funds already spent on the pandemic; $10 million will go to implement social distancing guidelines, $7 million for “community lifelines,” such as nonprofits, and $20 million for grants to local businesses. The remaining $26.7 million would be held back and released in a second phase.
Alston suggested that the grants be designated for businesses with 1-25 employees and no more than $10,000 each so that the county can assist more businesses across the board.
“We’re really trying to look out for our small businesses,” said Alston. “We are also discussing how we can help the City of Greensboro and City of High Point recoup some of the monies already spent on COVID-19.”
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, as of May 13, Guilford County has 670 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 44 deaths. The Guilford County Public Health Division has reported there are currently 137 hospitalizations and 294 recoveries. In Guilford County, African Americans account for 34.8 percent of the cases and 43.9 percent of the deaths.
In addition to the Barber Park testing site, there is also a testing site set up at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Black leaders are hoping the county will approve a testing site at N.C.A&T State University as well. Alston shared that the county commissioners are also discussing the use of mobile testing units that can travel to different neighborhoods.
“The African American cases of COVID-19 are higher than they should be,” said Alston.
Deena Hayes-Greene, chair of the Guilford County Board of Education discussed the district’s budget request of $1.6 million from the county that can assist in the district’s recovery efforts.
“We know that our kids are experiencing incredible losses right now and they need to come back to innovative, safe, modernized schools. Part of the reason we’re in this predicament is that we didn’t have the technological connectivity and students suffered learning loss because of that,” said Hayes-Greene.
She added that economic development for minorities is the answer to supporting not only small businesses, but also schools and public health.
“If we don’t get some meaningful minority participation we are going to be so far behind. If you want to close the achievement gap then you raise M/WBE participation. That means Black people getting work. Economic development is the answer,” she said.
State unemployment has increased with 1.1 million North Carolinians reported to have filed an unemployment claim as of May 11. The additional funds allotted by the federal government to assist with unemployment insurance will only cover those payments until July. According to N.C. District 28 State Sen. Gladys Robinson, state lawmakers are proposing bills to increase the money the state puts into unemployment funds to cover the gap after the loss of the additional federal money.
“We’re trying to look out for everyone, especially childcare centers where their workers will continue to get the additional supplement a week so they will be able to continue to operate,” said Robinson.
N.C. District 58 State Rep. Amos Quick added that it is important to remember that things will not go right back to normal after restrictions are lifted and people must plan for long-term recovery efforts as well.
“This can’t be the end of recovery. We have to build for the long-term. When the businesses open back up, does not mean things are going to return to normal. There’s been a lot of damage done to businesses and our communities from a health and financial perspective,” said Quick. “Just flipping the switch back on doesn’t change the impact it has had.”
Visit ncrapidrecovery.org for small business loan information.