‘Busiest three weeks of my career’: Michael Grigalonis on efforts to help small businesses
Chester County has so far held three, virtual townhall meetings over the last two weeks with elected and economic development officials as a way to keep small businesses and nonprofits apprised of what resources are available to them as they struggle through closure and funding issues prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chester County Economic Development Council has been one of those organizations at the forefront of the issues surrounding small businesses looking to survive the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus. Mike Grigalonis, Chief Operating Officer of the Chester County Economic Development Council, spent a few minutes talking about what the organization has been doing as the state and federal governments come up with different programs to support small businesses during this time.
How is it going? I’ve been doing this for 20 years and this has been the busiest three weeks of my career. Pennsylvania initiated a $61 million COVID-19 Working Capital Access (CWCA) Program that gives small businesses affected by the pandemic working capital. Economic development groups help connect those businesses with the funding. The state received 890 applications with a total of $75.6 million in application requests.
What did Chester County see? We received 315 applications and we closed it off because the commonwealth ran out of money. Any business with fewer than 100 employees can get a maximum loan size of $100,000. People are primarily using it for payroll, rent and loans.
We ended up submitting 112 applications in four days. I don’t know if that sounds like a lot to you but trust me it was nuts. The staff worked nights and weekends. It was first come first serve. We have a seven-person team dedicated to loans constantly. We have 20 plus other people who do other economic development work like site selection and training. We re-staffed everyone and reviewed all of the applications. I can tell you there is demand for it. I know from talking to my peers throughout the commonwealth that everyone was overwhelmed with applications and there will be businesses that will be disappointed they didn’t get money.
What kind of companies applied? A diverse mix from restaurants to auto body shops and pizza joints. We had all sorts of professional services including law firms and CPAs…the list goes on. This has affected companies in every industry.
Unemployment claims are on the rise across the country. How is it in Chester County? We had 10,000 in March. The number of unemployment claims was more in March than it had been previous 14 months combined in Chester County. I have seen statistics nationally and statewide. The record was set 30 years ago in a single month and that record was beaten by 5 times. It’s staggering. The magnitude of the impact this has had on the economy is unlike anything we have seen.
What’s next? In the short term, we are trying to be up to speed on the Paycheck Protection Program. Every business owner is trying to navigate that and we want to be a resource for business owners. All of those loans we submitted on the stateside will hopefully get approved and loans will get closed so businesses can get the cash they need. We are also starting to look at individually on the displaced worker side what we can do and find how we can support them.