The number of business owners seeking assistance from a business support center based at Long Beach City College has increased dramatically following unprecedented measures meant to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Information for business owners is changing rapidly, Nye explained, and it can be daunting to navigate on their own, said Patrick Nye, regional director of the Los Angeles Regional Small Business Development Center Network. As a result, there has been a massive influx of incoming calls.
“Typically, our centers see 50-60 clients per month. Now we are seeing that almost daily,” Nye said, noting that all business is being conducted via phone or video chat in accordance with social distancing guidelines.
“It has just been a huge wave of people seeking assistance to navigate all these different options and all the different information that’s being put out there.”
In addition to the host center located at LBCC, the L.A. region has eight physical Small Business Development Centers covering L.A., Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. There are currently 150 professional business advisors between all regional centers.
Most of the current staff of advisors are small business operators themselves who were working part time, Nye explained. However, with most businesses closed, he said everyone at the center is putting in more than a 40-hour workweek, with advisors available 10-14 hours per day, seven days per week.
“We’ve repurposed some of the admin folks in our offices to be the frontline and do phone triage,” Nye said. “We’re also tapping into other college departments that might not be as busy right now … to see if they can be [on the frontline]. That frees up our advisors to work on more technical details.”
A recent poll by the National Federation of Independent Businesses showed that 92% of small-business owners have been negatively affected by COVID-19. Half of respondents said their business can survive for no more than two months in the current business climate, while about one-third said they could remain operational for up to six months.
“Our poll of small-business owners details how unbelievably grim things are,” stated John Kabateck, California state director for the federation. “They’re not optimistic but they are resolved to give it a great fight before giving up.”
A portion of the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act is earmarked for one-time funding for the Small Business Development Center program through the U.S. Small Business Administration, Nye said. For the L.A. region, the funding could be enough to double the number of advisors for a short period of time, he added.
“There [has been] an emergence of predatory lenders and people trying to take advantage of the situation,” Nye said. “None of this should cost any business anything to get information or to get help navigating putting a loan forward.”