Local Businesses During the Pandemic – What Did Cities Do Right

Cities have a unique knowledge of their local business ecosystem. This makes them great first responders in critical situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which is causing shutdowns and layoffs across the country. What can cities do to support small entrepreneurs, and how do businesses get the memo?

07/06/2021
5 minutes
Zuzana Pison

Long months of Covid-19-induced restrictions, lockdowns, and uncertainty took their toll on small businesses worldwide. In response, small entrepreneurs have experienced shutdowns, mass layoffs, and financial fragility. In addition, many struggled with bureaucratic hassles preventing them from accessing government relief programs. Workers in hospitality, tourism, and retail were hit particularly hard.

The Federal Stimulus Package and SBA programs represent decent efforts on the federal level, but money from these initiatives will take a long time to reach those in need. While local programs will never be able to match the amount of federal funding, they do have one advantage: speed. Here are a number of examples of what cities across the U.S. have been doing to help businesses stay afloat.

Aid for Business

In the U.S., small businesses with less than 100 workers account for about one-third of national employment. This makes them the economic backbone of local communities. Small business stabilization funding is one way to provide short-term relief, but advisory services are also useful.

In Birmingham, Alabama, the city managed to support 2800+ small businesses in collaboration with corporate partners. How did they go about it? By setting up call centers informing them about CARES federal assistance, low-interest loans, and technical assistance.

In New York City, Mayor de Blasio proposed a relief package for small businesses experiencing a decline in revenue due to Covid-19.  Small businesses whose sales decrease by at least 25% will be eligible for interest-free loans of up to $75,000 to help mitigate losses in profit. For microbusinesses—those with less than five employees—the city will provide grants covering 40% of payroll costs for two months.

In the U.S., small businesses with less than 100 workers account for about one-third of national employment.

Cities have also supported small entrepreneurs by deferral of taxes (San Francisco), a moratorium on commercial evictions (Los Angeles), and suspended rentals (Atlanta).

It is important for small businesses looking for relief funding, to keep an eye on their city’s social media, website, and local news outlets, where all information can be found. To make things easier for residents, cities should consider storing all these announcements in one place. This can be done through online applications such as Simplicity which integrates various communication channels in one place.

Emergency Laws to Protect Workers

To prevent the spread of the virus, workers must not be pressed to choose between supporting their families and following proper health protocols. This is where cities can step in with emergency legislation. City policy-makers can ensure that all workers affected by the COVID-19, be it due to reduced hours or quarantines, receive unemployment insurance. Such laws can be complemented by unemployment retention programs and one-time relief payments.

One example of such legislation comes from Washington D.C. According to the bill, employers must continue to implement social distancing policies and enforce mask-wearing requirements in the workplace. The Act also includes an anti-retaliation provision that prevents employers from taking adverse action against workers. If employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and need to quarantine or care for someone sick with COVID-19, they should not worry about their job security.

It is paramount that local entrepreneurs are aware of the city’s law-making power affecting their businesses and that the information about a new bill reaches them as soon as possible. To learn about innovative communication strategies cities should embrace, you can read more here.

Using Social Media for Promotion

City communication teams can use the power of social media to motivate residents to shop locally and support local businesses. For example, they can advertise a map of businesses as the City of Chandler, Arizona. Or they can write up a detailed list of local restaurants such as the City of Springboro, Ohio.

City communication teams can use the power of social media to motivate residents to shop locally and support local businesses

Cities can also remind citizens to purchase gift cards for local shops, restaurants, and cultural venues. The city of Philadelphia has encouraged residents to consider buying a gift card for their favorite restaurant or other food business. They also compiled a list of restaurants offering takeout, curbside pick-up, delivery, and other special menus in the midst of the outbreak.

In Burleson, Texas,  local companies want to challenge the community in supporting small businesses even further. Each week a Burleson-based enterprise will match funds for every gift card purchased from a small business in the area. The extra money will be donated to a local non-profit.

Cities as First Responders

To bounce back from the pandemic, businesses and municipalities must work together to forge better tomorrows for all.  Cities have immediate access to their local communities and possess a unique knowledge of their needs. This allows them to provide immediate and targeted help in crises such as the ongoing pandemic. Many cities have shown resilience and creativity when trying to support local entrepreneurs. It is crucial to make these stories heard and establish straightforward communication channels between residents and their local government.