As federal, state and local governments scramble to support residents, the healthcare industry and others during times of crisis, it can be easy to overlook the needs of small, local businesses that play vital roles in maintaining the fabric and culture of a community. Local governments might actively avoid these supportive conversations, because they are afraid of creating the perception that they are able to provide help, funding or resources that may be beyond their capabilities.
In the past few weeks, we have seen a lot of Bang the Table clients step up to be conduits for information for local businesses navigating these uncertain times. Some businesses are able to stay open, providing critical services to their communities, while others are partially-operating, and others completely shuttered. This shifting landscape requires a thoughtful approach – one in which government agencies must be clear about what they can and cannot do to help.
Your community engagement site can serve as a central location for businesses to visit and access real-time information, resources, and support. The ideas and examples below are not meant to be guidelines or suggestions, as each of you serves serve unique communities with your own set of unique resources. Our hope is that the following examples serve to generate ideas that are actionable for your community, if you are being called on to support small businesses.
Three communities here in the U.S are leading the way for small business support on their EngagementHQ sites: Somerville, Massachusetts, Mercer Island, Washington and the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri.
Maximize NWMO is providing a centralized resource for COVID-19 information and resources, updating their list of links daily, and maintaining several topic-driven discussion forums for the crowdsourcing of information.
City of Somerville is hosting weekly virtual town halls to allow business owners to ask questions and share concerns directly with city staff, as well as maintaining their own list of resources. They’ve also launched a survey, in both English and Spanish, to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on local business, opened a Q&A tool and launched a discussion forum. Somerville also makes great use of rich media, linking to videos about disaster relief loans and considerations for restaurants.
Mercer Island has created an easy to navigate space for all aspects of local business, creating handy buttons for ordering local delivery/takeout, information for workers, community resources and COVID-19 info. With the newsfeed tab, they’re keeping the whole community updated with critical information like links to Small Business Disaster Assistance and a new initiative to support island restaurants, Take Out Tuesday. With almost daily updates, Mercer Island has done a wonderful job establishing themselves as the factual place for up to date small business information.
Here are how other cities and towns across the globe are actively supporting their business communities through crisis:
- Golden, Colorado has allowed businesses to set up payment plans for sales tax, and are waiving penalties for late payment
- Several agencies continue to issue water and utility bills, but have suspended any cancellations or disruption of service
- Chambers of Commerce are partnering with cities to create ongoing lists of local businesses and their COVID-19 influenced operations, so residents know where they can still get food and services
- Brockton, California created a confidential survey to assess the needs of their business community, so they can advocate for them at the different levels of government
- Some councils in Australia have shortened their cycle for paying invoices, fast-tracking fast tracking payments to drive cash flow to local businesses
- Taking time to list ways to support local businesses, including purchasing gift cards, shopping online, ordering take out, renewing subscriptions and dues, contributing to employee tip-funds, and more
- Many are linking to resources like the US Chamber of Commerce site for Small Businesses, CDC Guidance for Employers and Businesses, and CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting
We hope you find inspiration in this great work from your global community of practice. If you need support, ideas or help in any way during this time of crisis, please reach out. We’re happy to support your work in any way that we can.