As California approaches the six-month mark since Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020 to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce reflects back on effective regional actions taken and identifies key recommendations to help position Capital Region businesses for future recovery.
“As we approach September 19 – which marks six months from California’s mandatory stay-at-home order – this is the time to reflect back and also strategically look ahead. Without question, our business community looks dramatically different than it did just six months ago. In fact, I believe the next six months will be even more pivotal and critical as we collectively, and individually, pave new paths to become a stronger, more connected and resilient region than ever before.”
–Amanda Blackwood, President and CEO of the Metro Chamber.
Looking Back – Six Effective Actions Taken to Support Local Businesses
Rapid Response Hub Website
In response to a massive volume of complex and changing information being released on a sometimes daily (or even hourly) basis, the Rapid Response Hub was launched as a one-stop-shop resource to help regional businesses quickly find needed information – ranging from the most current public health orders to access to capital to info on unemployment – to navigate an extremely challenging and volatile time. Since the site launched on March 18, nearly 11,000 sessions have been initiated by more than 7,000 unique users to date.
Business Triage Hotline
To assist with the huge volume of pressing questions from local businesses owners, the Metro Chamber and Sacramento Asian Pacific Chamber teamed up to establish a business triage hotline to provide person-to-person on-demand navigational support and free technical assistance via phone. The hotline went live on April 15 with assistance provided in four languages (English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin). Since the hotline’s inception in April (which was active through August), the team of advisors fielded more than 450 calls on topics such as navigating disaster funding opportunities, recalling and hiring of employees, accessing general and pandemic unemployment assistance, reopening business safely and available community resources.
Assistance was provided to a variety of businesses including those who were self-employed, sole proprietors, 1099s and LLCs. The business sizes ranged from owner-operator to 60+ employees, based mainly in the following cities: Sacramento, Elk Grove, Folsom, Rancho Cordova, Lodi, Vacaville, Stockton, Woodland, Davis, Yuba City and Citrus Heights. To date, the services helped those businesses with required steps to receive nearly $2.5 million in disaster loans (PPP, EIDL, and other local/city relief funds).
Even prior to local and state mandates for wearing masks, the Metro Chamber proactively partnered with the City of Sacramento and Raley’s to distribute free face masks to local businesses to prevent the spread of COVID-19. To date, more than 58,000 free masks have been distributed as part of this effort (which include 10,000 donated by UC Davis Health) with distribution continuing to this day. Regionally, the Metro Chamber created graphics, flyers, and support via Chambers United, a regional coalition of chambers of commerce, to assist small businesses in need of communication tools to encourage customers to wear masks in their place of business.
CARES Act and Federal Fund Allocation
Even before the CARES Act was passed, the Metro Chamber worked with federal officials to ensure the Capital Region had access to federal funds via Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) by ensuring a local emergency was declared, prior to most of the country. Sacramento businesses were some of the first in the nation to receive these funds as a result.
The Metro Chamber also worked closely with the city of Sacramento and through a coalition of city PBIDs and chambers to secure more than $21M of the $89M in the city’s CARES fund allocation for small business forgivable loans and technical assistance. Following the framework created by Mayor Steinberg and City Council, the Metro Chamber’s diligence ensured these funds were identified for the small businesses most in need, including those impacted by civil unrest, ensuring that 1,400 businesses received forgivable loans, and more importantly, free technical assistance through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to help them create business plans to pivot during this time.
During a special meeting of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on August 19, $45M of the $181M received by the County was approved to go towards public health via CARES Act funds, a fund allotment that would not have happened without the public outcry from business and community organizations, including the Metro Chamber.
“Farm-to-Fork Al Fresco” Program
Given local restaurant operations were particularly and immediately devastated by the closing of indoor operations, the City of Sacramento and regional business organizations quickly identified innovative ways to adhere to physical distancing requirements while providing more space for eateries to serve customers – by expanding their premise operations outside to existing patios, available public spaces and off-street parking areas. In the city of Sacramento, this was led by Councilmember Steve Hansen, and supported by the Metro Chamber, Midtown Association, Downtown Sacramento Partnership, Visit Sacramento, R Street, Old Sacramento Waterfront, Midtown Central, the Alhambra District, the Handle District and Sutter District.
The “Farm-to-Fork Al Fresco” program officially launched on May 22 and continues to flourish and feed the entire region. The Metro Chamber was instrumental in helping behind-the-scenes to ensure this was a city-wide initiative and to connect the city of Sacramento and other cities, to critical state departments including Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), so businesses were aware of how to revise their ABC license and expand their premise for serving alcohol.
Removing Barriers to Business
Since even before the stay-at-home order was put into place and while local business owners were working on the frontlines to navigate day-to-day operations and understand ever-evolving guidelines, the Metro Chamber has been working diligently behind-the-scenes (e.g. fighting right to recall, worker protective ordinance, revising eviction moratoriums, advocating against state and federal restrictions, working with local public health officials, etc.) to ensure clear and revised guidance was made available for businesses to operate. As examples, morning Business Task Force Calls were organized and available to support the business community and regional coalitions were set up with regional PBIDs (Property Based Improvement Districts) and local Chambers.
Looking Forward – Six Recommendations for Recovery
While there is a real sense of urgency for businesses and restaurants to fully reopen as quickly as possible once restrictions are lifted, it is recommended that businesses reopen carefully and safely when fully ready to do so and that data drives decision making.
Given the many facets that need to be considered to keep staff, customers and the community safe, business owners are urged to take this time to put consistent guidelines in place to operate safely, reach out for support until all questions are answered, needs are addressed, consistent policies are in place, staff is trained and adequate supplies of personal protective equipment are secured (with access to more if needed) before welcoming customers back.
Network and Collaborate
Especially during times of uncertainty, physical and mental isolation is a real challenge that can be easily remedied. In fact, there is no shortage of networking opportunities and ways to stay connected in the Sacramento region.
One great example is the Emerge Summit that happened on September 17 in a virtual format. Spearheaded by Metro EDGE, a young professional’s program of the Sacramento Metro Chamber Foundation, the event highlights the Metro Chamber’s continued role to connect businesses to each other, to support a regional talent retention strategy and to ensure young professionals are connected to resources to further their professional development. The event is the largest conference for young professionals on the west coast; hundreds are attending the virtual personal and professional development conference, which includes content and educational breakout sessions focused on business, personal and professional development, community and civic engagement and social justice.
Given today’s staggering unemployment numbers, it is recommended that able businesses use this time to consider investing in long term strategies. For fortunate business owners that have the ability to plan ahead and focus on future needs, this may be the time to assess where the organization is headed and find ways to identify and attract top talent that is usually limited but now readily available in the local market at all levels.
Also, it is critically important that businesses find ways to close the digital divide in an effort to successfully connect the unemployed to opportunities for the industries that are growing, especially in industries such as future mobility, agriculture and life sciences. The Metro Chamber offers invaluable resources and tools via the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to help business owners continue to pivot and be positioned for future growth at no cost.
Diversity and Equity in Our Business
Just as COVID-19 has been an accelerator for change in many of our business models, so has the international call-to-action for social justice and equity in our society. Data has long demonstrated that businesses with diversity and equity in their leadership and workforce are more resilient and profitable. The direct and much-needed conversations taking place on social justice have also identified how racism exists in our institutions and implicit bias impacts hiring.
The Metro Chamber in its role in The Prosperity Partnership and creation of “Our Path Forward: The Prosperity Plan” has made it a priority to create a more inclusive and equitable economy for our communities and businesses as well as holding the organization accountable via a “Commitment to Change.”
Advocating for Access to Capital
The Metro Chamber remains committed to continuing strong advocacy efforts to secure additional funding such as PPP and EIDL to support our regional business community, along with other forms of relief through federal advocacy. In addition, the Chamber is working closely with partners to also ensure free school lunch programs continue and more local families in need have access to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which is the largest federal nutrition assistance program available.
Reduce Barriers to Operate
Local small businesses want and need to protect the health of employees and customers now and in the coming months. In doing so, they will create and find the best ways to establish barriers between the virus and those in their business. This concerted effort includes physical barriers such as the plexiglass screens to teleworking for employees at home to additional PPE. What they cannot do alone – and where the Metro Chamber works diligently on their behalf – is continue to fight the additional restrictions and compliance being placed on them by local, state and federal entities at a time when they need to focus on people instead of paperwork (including right to recall, civil lawsuits based on poorly written local ordinances and workman’s compensation claims with automatic presumption that the virus was caught on the worksite).
“It is estimated that more than 40 percent of our businesses will fail if we do not take select actions now, including ensuring access to capital, flattening case rates, confirming reopening decisions are driven by data, and reducing barriers to business. Individually and collectively, we have our work cut out for us and the Metro Chamber is helping to lead the way to support business at all levels.”
–Amanda Blackwood, President and CEO of the Metro Chamber.