It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on small- and medium-sized businesses across New Jersey over the past several months, but as these businesses attempt to recover and transition into a new normal, the work for many is just getting started.
Deborah K. Smarth, chief operating officer and associate state director of America’s Small Business Development Centers, New Jersey (NJSBDC), an organization that is part of a national network which provides comprehensive assistance to small- and medium-sized businesses, recalls what she describes as an onslaught of people coming to the organization in desperate need.
“I heard the stories of human toll,” Smarth says. “People talking about their businesses that they started from scratch years ago, and the toll and the desperation in their voices: ‘Please help us, please help me,’ we heard it all.”
The sheer number of small businesses that were seeking any sort of assistance and guidance shortly after the onset of the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions to help stem its spread, was staggering.
Smarth says that during a typical federal fiscal year, in this case from October 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019, NJSBDC provided 5,083 business clients with one-on-one counselling.
“From March 1, 2020 to May 5, 2020 alone, we had approximately 2,830 clients coming to us for one-on-one counselling, which is about 27% more clients than in the same time period last year,” she says.
Additionally, from March 1 to May 5 of this year, NJSBDC completed approximately 4,570 counselling hours, or 31% more than the average year.
“It was such an overwhelming tremendous impact on our network which is already very lean,” Smarth says.
“The NJSBDC is a place that aligns with the human touch of business,” says Vincent Vicari, regional director, NJSBDC at Ramapo College of New Jersey. “The phone calls we received were the hands of the entrepreneur reaching up and saying, ‘Pull me out of this. What is out there that I can stand on?’
“[In order to reopen, these businesses must] have a succinct strategy with plans that work for them,” Vicari says, adding that the NJSBDC is a resource to help companies transform their business plans to be successful on the road to reopening, and as they eventually enter into a stage of resiliency.
Smarth explains that while no one has total control over the economic outcome that will unfold in the future, NJSBDC can help mitigate the risk for business operations through customized one-on-one counselling for each individual business, and helping businesses navigate various loan applications, such as the Economic Injury Disaster Assistance Loan or the Paycheck Protection Program, for example.
“We can give businesses all the guidance in the world, but ultimately the consumers drive the economy. Therefore the economic security of individuals is very important in driving this recovery,” Smarth adds.
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