Some relief may be available for businesses forced to close due to a sweeping public health order issued to slow the rate of COVID-19 transmission. Businesses that choose to close or otherwise experience a virus-related downturn over the next few weeks may also be eligible for assistance.
Support is available at several. The federal government offers disaster relief loans, and the state is compiling economic resources for small businesses. Locally, people and businesses affected by the community’s response to COVID-19 can seek assistance of various kinds from at least one bank and nonprofits that have gathered local dollars to help out.
Gov. Mark Gordon put it simply during a Monday press conference.
“Small businesses are the lifeblood of Wyoming’s economy, and I will do everything in my power to support them during this time,” he said.
Federal funding available
On Friday, Gordon declared a state of emergency, the first step in opening Wyoming businesses to emergency loan assistance from the federal Small Business Administration.
Four counties — Teton, Park, Uinta and Sweetwater — became eligible for that funding Tuesday because of declarations made in Utah and Montana that included the Wyoming areas as “contiguous counties.” Rule changes announced Tuesday mean Gordon’s declaration will bring the rest of the state online within “hours,” SBA Wyoming District Director Amy Lea said.
The federal agency’s disaster relief funding, dubbed Economic Injury Disaster Loans, is commonly used to support those affected by terrestrial natural disasters. The Nashville, Tennessee, area received support when tornadoes ripped through the area.
SBA funds can be used to cover “fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid” because of the impact of coronavirus. Small businesses receive a 3.75% interest rate. The nonprofit rate is 2.75%. Loans of up to $2 million can be issued, Lea said.
Interested businesses should visit SBA.gov/disaster to apply.
Those looking for help can also turn to the Wyoming Small Business Development Center, the federal agency’s state resource partner.
Lea said the center can help “with preparing to submit a loan application to SBA, and also trying to plan for how coronavirus can impact their businesses.” An example of the latter is developing strategies to implement before receiving a loan to mitigate economic shocks.
Turnaround time on disaster loan applications is usually a week, but that may take longer because of the volume of requests the bureau anticipates receiving.
“This has been an unprecedented disaster,” Lea said. If people submit applications, she said “we’re very hopeful it will be processed just as quickly as possible.”
State to compile info
No state funds will be available for small business economic assistance programs, but the state is looking to provide support in other ways. Gordon asked State Auditor Kristi Racines, who is heading up the state’s business and finance COVID-19 taskforce, to compile resources for small businesses. The Wyoming Bankers Association and Wyoming Business Council will both be involved in that group, Gordon said, “to figure out the best way to approach these things.”
Some local programs
At a local level Bank of Jackson Hole Chairman and CEO Pete Lawton said his firm is working with businesses and individuals to discuss possible solutions for cash flow issues.
Lawton said the bank has both been approached by and approached businesses to discuss “contingency plans.” It has already lent borrowers some money, and Lawton said the firm is “always looking for new business” if others are looking for help.
“We think this is short term and if we think the business is viable” — the same considerations the bank made before Jackson Hole began responding to the pandemic — “we’ll work with them and try to figure something out,” Lawton said.
For the time being, Lawton said the Bank of Jackson Hole has “plenty of liquidity.” His main concern is timing.
“The longer we’re in this situation, the more difficult it’s going to be for everybody,” he said, noting that businesses in Jackson are generally strong.
“I think they’re going to be fine and ride it out, but I do worry about the individuals,” Lawton said.
With interest rates slashed by the Federal Reserve Board in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the banker noted that “interest rates are very favorable across the board.” He said the Bank of Jackson Hole is prepared to “work with individuals on a case-by-case basis.”
Just make sure to call, rather than visit in person.
“All of the different tools we have available [for businesses] are available for individuals as well,” Lawton said. “If they want to call us, we’ll absolutely walk it through with them.”
First Interstate Bank’s market president Richard Uhl said his bank was working on a response.
The Community Foundation of Jackson Hole and One22 have also set up funds for those impacted by the pandemic’s economic fallout. See page 3 for more.