Frontline for relief: WMU team helps small businesses survive COVID-19 impacts

Contact: Megan Looker

Downtown Kalamazoo from a drone.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—In an unprecedented time of uncertainty, many small businesses throughout West Michigan are struggling to make ends meet. From lack of sales to growing needs of their employees, they’re relying on state or federal aid. However, preparing to secure disaster relief is no small feat, a detail the Michigan Small Business Development Center—SBDC—knows all too well.

Housed within Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business, the SBDC small business team is working with clients within the seven counties of southwest Michigan to provide  direction and assistance in filling out the various forms needed for government aid. 

Tamara Davis, regional director of Michigan Small Business Development Center

Tamara Davis, regional director of the Michigan Small Business Development Center

“Prior to the start of COVID-19, a significant amount of our time was assisting our clients with starting and growing their businesses. … Now, we are helping them to survive,” says Tamara Davis, regional director of the Michigan SBDC.

The list of institutions providing disaster recovery funding or loans grows by the day, including the Small Business Administration, Michigan Economic Development Corporation and local community organizations and government, like the city of Kalamazoo and Battle Creek Unlimited. The SBDC is urging small businesses to reach out to their regional office if they need assistance or visit their website.

In the last few weeks, the small business team at WMU was on the front lines of assisting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer with the recent SBA Disaster Recovery Loan program. Davis says they were responsible for getting impact statements from each county in southwest Michigan to demonstrate the need for the loans.

“There are so many programs coming into place and each is providing a variety of offerings for both employers and employees,” Davis says. “We are trying to stay abreast of the rather fluid environment we are finding ourselves in right now so we can best direct our clients.”

Direction from the SBDC includes daily webinars on topics like navigating the cash-flow crunch, sustaining businesses, available resources and how to file for relief loans. Their goal is to provide small businesses and nonprofits with funds to cover essentials, such as utilities, payroll, and rent or mortgage.

While it’s short-term relief, Davis says the benefit of this aid extends far beyond the next few months.

“The impact to the Western Michigan University community is significant,” Davis says. “All of these efforts are being put into place in order to maintain our vibrant community long after the COVID-19 outbreak has passed.”

While the SBDC is focusing its efforts on helping local businesses, she says community members are also taking up the call.

“I’ve been so impressed with the outpouring of support and offers of assistance we have had from the business community. Every day, accountants and other business professionals are reaching out to see if they can be of assistance to our clients.”

Connecting bridges, Davis says, is well worth the tireless work.

“We know we are a critical resource to the community, and it makes me very proud to know we are able to make a difference.”

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