Federal Pandemic Help, a ‘Lifeline’ to Local Business

Business planning under the best of circumstances isn’t an exact science. But add a global pandemic to the mix and that can throw even the most detailed calculations out the window. While businesses in coastal counties are always mindful of the threat of natural disasters, especially hurricanes and wildfires, reacting to an invisible threat was not on most companies’ radar.

For Volusia County businesses large and small, 2020 put the idea of contingency planning to the test. And while the grades are not yet complete, with the help of federal, state and local governments the report card may not look as bad as first feared. 

Bruce Page, president and CEO at Intracoastal Bank, said business plans should include emergency cash reserves.

“I recommend a business have a minimum of three to six months in cash, or equivalent, in reserve for emergencies,” he said. “Fortunately, the federal government provided an unprecedented amount of the fiscal and monetary stimulus to help support businesses and citizens with this crisis.

According to statistics from the Volusia County Department of Economic Development, through mid-July, more than 395,000 business across Florida have received money through the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to help businesses keep paying employees during the pandemic.

Page said Intracoastal Bank has provided more than 300 of those PPP loans, totaling more than $22 million.

“To put this in perspective, during March and April we produced the equivalent of one-and-a-half years of our typical level of loan volume,” he said.

Page said the bank quickly saw the program as a vital need in the community, while anticipating the demands it would place on the bank.

“Everyone on our team said this was the most challenging period of their careers based on the complexity and vast workload required for the program,” he said. “But the entire Intracoastal Bank team said this was also the most gratifying experience of their careers.”

“Early in the government’s developmental stages of PPP it became evident to Intracoastal management our bank needed to participate in the program,” he said. “This was clear from the overwhelming need expressed by our business customers.”

Page said one business owner, Pete Tavolacci of Dominics Deli, was vocal in his appreciation.

“The timing was difficult for the Tavolaccis as they had recently opened their Daytona Beach location,” he said. “The loan program became available while they were still in the launch phase, which is always a challenging period for any business. Pete and his team stayed open when possible and he was able to maximize his employment levels in spite of the constraints from Covid-19.”

Page said the government intervention has been key to mitigating the economic and financial impact of the pandemic.

“The government response has been phenomenal and has been the equivalent of throwing a lifeline to the most impacted businesses and citizens,” he said. However, that doesn’t take the place of emergency planning.

“The federal government has limited resources and businesses should not count on that support going forward,” Page said.

It is important to note that not all of the government assistance for businesses has come from Washington, D.C. Local governments, including the Volusia County Council, have stepped up to offer help as well.

“Much like the rest of the country, Volusia County businesses are suffering from the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said county economic development director Helga van Eckert. “The extraordinary level of economic disruption requires us to prioritize the support of our existing businesses and help them retain some level of stability while dealing with Covid operating requirements.”

Van Eckert said the level of collaboration between the county, municipal governments and other economic stakeholders is helping local businesses with a wide variety of assistance measures. While the most well-known financial aid for businesses is the Paycheck Protection Program, local governments such as Volusia County have stepped up to provide financial help.

“The County Council recently approved using CARES Act dollars to provide Small and Home-Based Business Reopening grants,” van Eckert said. The county has already disbursed more than $5 million directly to local businesses.

The program offers Relaunch Volusia grants of $3,000 for business with 25 employees or less and $5,000 for businesses with between 26 and 50 employees, according to van Eckert.

The Home-Based Business grant program offers qualifying businesses a one-time grant of $1,500, she said.

“The businesses must have the equivalent of 50 or fewer full-time employees and show a minimum of $6,000 in gross income or receipts on their recent tax return,” van Eckert said. “The businesses must certify that they have suffered at least $1,500 in financial impacts due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Businesses looking for help can learn about the latest assistance programs at VolusiaBusinessResources.com.

While much focus has rightly been on the human cost of the pandemic, Page said the situation provides a real-world lesson on the necessity of proper business planning.

“I have talked to many business owners and they have all said they were surprised by the pandemic and its devastating impact,” he said. “I think many lessons can be learned, including the importance of having contingency plans for all types of emergencies, including unexpected health events.”

“I think businesses should take the steps to ensure they have sufficient capital and liquidity to sustain their operations for any unexpected external threat they may face.”