The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything many of us have ever encountered. Our lives changed within weeks, days even, as schools, businesses, churches and pretty much any place that hosted a crowd of people, shut down. The economic and health crisis as coronavirus spread across the country and into Arkansas has posed not only many personal challenges, but also business challenges.

Small businesses like so many in Saline County that make up the fabric of our communities have faced uncertainties like no other. They merely have been trying to survive. The state and federal governments have stepped in to help relieve these burdens and help small businesses stay afloat.

Philip Partain, Saline County community bank president of Arvest Bank, says one of the biggest takeaways from this pandemic for businesses is the U.S. Small Business Administration. While most business owners are aware of the Small Business Administration, he says very few understand the different products the SBA offers, how competitive the rates are compared to traditional financing or how these products can work to assist businesses in need. 

“We all have to do a better job of educating our communities of this tremendous resource, and I think the heightened awareness of the SBA’s products will carry over into post-COVID-19 relief efforts,” says Phillip. “I have a feeling that they will be more of a top-of-mind resource than they were before.” 

The main SBA loan program from which many local businesses have benefited is the Paycheck Protection Program, Phillip notes. “Through this program, small businesses struggling to pay their employees can apply for an SBA loan that will cover the cost of their payroll and help them keep their doors open. In many cases, these loans will not need to be paid back.” 

The Paycheck Protection Program is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which allocated $350 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed amid the pandemic and economic crisis.

Phillips adds that Arvest Bank has been able to work directly with small business owners needing these loans because of its certification as an SBA Preferred Lender. “This funding as provided by the SBA has been incredibly effective in helping several local businesses stay open and keep their staff employed. Small businesses are hurting mightily and the SBA has been the bridge throughout this tumultuous time in our history.”

And there are other ways the government has assisted businesses during this crisis:

Offering Emergency grants of $10,000 to SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan applicants: Even if your business is denied a loan, you can still access this grant, which can be used to provide employee sick leave, maintain payroll or meet other needs like paying rent.

Expanding access to SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans: As part of its disaster assistance program, the SBA is providing working capital loans of up to $2 million to small businesses and nonprofits affected by the coronavirus. Sole proprietors and businesses with fewer than 500 employees qualify, and applicants don’t need to provide a personal guarantee on loans under $200,000. Payments can also be deferred for up to four years.

Extending the federal return tax filing from April 15 to July 15. Estimated tax payments for 2020 originally due on April 15 are now due on July 15. Arkansas also has extended its filing date to July 15.

Also of note, Facebook has committed to offering up to 30,000 small businesses $100 million in cash grants and Facebook advertising credits.

Phillip points out how this pandemic has made individuals and businesses realize how important technology is. “The biggest change I think we are seeing across all industries, including the banking industry, is in the way technology is providing solutions to the challenges our customers are facing,” he says. 

“Technological advances are dramatically changing the landscape of banking by providing customers the ability to conduct business without having to step foot in the bank. Two examples of this include remote deposit capture and e-sign capabilities for loan requests and funding, which have enabled borrowers to have remote access to capital.”

With various directives and guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local, state and federal health officials, the way business is conducted has dramatically changed. Restaurants and ice cream shops changed their models from dine-in to curbside and pickup, retailers went to online shopping or curbside service, real estate agents went to virtual tours, and banks closed their lobbies or restricted access. 

Phillip says the banking industry already had been dealing with declining lobby attendance, so the drop in face-to-face interaction wasn’t so much of a shock to them. “As we begin to work through a ‘new normal,’ it may be incumbent on those small businesses that are not as technologically savvy to work toward enhancements of their own in order to retain, expand or acquire new clientele, and really, that’s what the recent technological advancement boils down to—improving accessibility and customer-brand experience.”

With help from experts like Phillip, small businesses and individuals find ways to survive during one of the most debilitating economic and health crises our state and nation have ever experienced. It may take some research and digging, but through SBA assistance and technology, thriving, not just surviving, is possible.