LIFE IN EASTERN IOWA

Supporting local businesses during turbulent times

Scott Swenson
Scott Swenson

Scott Swenson typically spends his workdays helping people start new businesses or grow existing ones.

Now he’s helping business owners find ways to survive the impact of the coronavirus economic shutdown.

“Some businesses have accelerated plans they had in the works, like e-commerce, which has suddenly become a necessity,” said Swenson, regional director of the Small Business Development Center at the Kirkwood Community College Regional Center in Hiawatha.

Many local businesses, he said, are seeing diminished revenues or none at all. Some have revamped their business models, offering curbside pickup or online purchasing.

Others are going into “sleep” mode to minimize expenses.

Swenson helps the business owners he sees weigh their options. What initially might seem like a good decision may not be the best one for the long-term health of the business.

Some restaurants, for example, might not generate enough revenue with take-out orders to offset the expenses of staying open, he said.

Swenson’s advice is free. The choices are tough.

When Swenson first meets with a business owner, he starts with an assessment of where the business is at and how it can minimize its expenses.

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He also helps business owners navigate the ever-changing landscape of federal and state loans and grants that have been created in response to the economic havoc wreaked by the virus.

The loans and grants may be helpful in some cases, but Swenson advises caution.

Loans borrowed to keep the doors open don’t offer the same kind of return on investment as loans used to grow a business. That means it can take longer for a business to become profitable again after the dust settles.

“We talk about how to get through it with the least amount of outside capital,” he said. “We don’t want to carry the disaster with us for any length of time.”

Some recently created loans may be forgivable and won’t carry over, like the Paycheck Protection Program. The U.S. Small Business Administration will forgive those loans if a business keeps all its employees on the payroll for eight weeks and the loan is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities. (Details can be found at sba.gov.)

Swenson said it’s possible that more loans will become forgivable. More rounds of federal and state funding are likely to come.

It’s important for small business owners to connect with their local chamber or economic alliance, a Main Street group or his office. People can sign up for e-newsletters and updates to stay informed about the latest help as it becomes available.

“All of us are working together to get people matched with the right resources,” he said.

Swenson also encourages local businesses to lean on each other, strategizing with other small businesses on how they can work together. Sharing strategies for staying in touch with customers or even sharing employees — something Swenson said some businesses are doing — can have a significant impact on recovery.

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“At the end of this,” he said, “we want businesses to be able to go into growth mode and capture as much business as quickly as possible.”

More Information And Help

• Small Business Development Center: (319) 377-8256; iowasbdc.org/regional-center/

• The Gazette’s Coronavirus Business Resources: <URL destination="https://www.thegazette.com/coronavirus-business-resource">thegazette.com/coronavirus-business-resource

</URL>• U.S. Small Business Administration: sba.gov

• Iowa Economic Development: iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/businessrecovery

• Metro Economic Alliance: cedarrapids.org

• Marion Chamber of Commerce: marioncc.org

• Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce: iowacityarea.com

• Iowa City Area Development Group: iowacityareadevelopment.com

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