The St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce presents: Coronavirus Impact Insights
On this episode of Chamber Coronavirus Impact Insights, Mike Meidel, Director of Pinellas County Economic Development joins Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber and Joe Hamilton, publisher of St. Pete Catalyst talk about the many efforts throughout Pinellas County to provide the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed for local hospitals, as well as the financial assistance available to impacted businesses.
Florida’s statewide stay-at-home order went into effect Friday at 12:01 a.m. The restrictions are similar to the recommendations already in place by Pinellas County, through its “Safer At Home” ordinance that had already been in place since March 25. According to Meidel, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and his deputies had already started conducting compliance checks with Pinellas County businesses.
“The Sheriff is happy with how people are obeying the order,” Meidel said. Simply put, the order asks Florida residents not to leave their homes unless seeking essential services like medical treatment or groceries. Many companies in core industries like healthcare, telecommunications, information technology, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics, energy, water and wastewater, law enforcement and public works are also considered essential and must remain open, either with employees working remotely or, if possible, following CDC recommendations for social distancing.
“I do want to express to our businesses,” Steinocher says, “there are a lot of businesses that are essential, there are quite a few in our community that are running today. But please, if you’re not following those six-foot guidelines and being safe for your employees, do not be working right now and don’t make the sheriff come shut you down. He doesn’t want to do that.”
Steinocher reports that of the 2,000 calls that the Chamber has made to local businesses, 70 percent of businesses are extremely worried about their economic livelihood.
Meidel expresses the severity of the unemployment crisis. The official unemployment rate in February was just 2.9 percent. Now, it has doubled to at least six percent, if not higher, and will continue to grow as non-essential businesses shut their doors.
Meidel points local businesses to three major resources:
SBA Disaster Loans are federal loans provided at 3.75 percent interest for 30 years. Businesses with 2-100 employees are eligible borrow up to $10 million. Meidel says that the backlog is extensive right now, with over 2 million applications submitted nationwide, based on reports from a week and a half ago. Applications are likely much higher now. Meidel’s advice, fill those applications out now. They are lengthy, taking 2+ hours to complete, but they provide a long-term source of funds that can be used for payroll and operating costs.
SBA Disaster loans were intended for hurricanes or regional disasters, not a global pandemic. Therefore, the systems are overwhelmed and will likely take time to respond. In the meantime, Meidel says business owners should apply for state-run programs.
Florida Bridge Loans, administered at the state level, provide one year, interest-free loans of up to $50,000. Meidel says that system is also overwhelmed, but that employers should fill out applications as quickly as possible. Meidel currently has 123 applications going through Pinellas Economic Development, but has seen 800 more just from Pinellas in the state queue.
The Federal Payroll Protection Program is another federal resources for employers, meant to reduce the load on unemployment systems. The program provides funds for 250% of a business’ monthly payroll in the form of a forgivable loan. The loan will be forgiven if it is used to keep employees on the payroll. It may also be used for rent or mortgage, utilities, and other essential costs. The interest rate has not yet been released, but it is expected to be low, between 1-1.5 percent. Applications are submitted through local banks, but the details have not yet been worked through. Meidel says businesses’ best bet is to get with their local banker and ensure that they are an SBA lender. According to Meidel, these funds may be used to re-hire employees that have already been laid off, and pay them back-pay, which would allow loan forgiveness as well.
For employees, Florida’s unemployment system has been particularly difficult. The system’s website has been so overwhelmed, applicants have been forced to move to paper applications. Meidel advises that applicants submit their applications as quickly as possible.
Finally, Pinellas Economic Development is gathering donations for hospital and EMS workers. Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., donations of items like N-95 masks, full face shields, gowns, gloves and disinfectant will be accepted through no-contact drop-off at Tropicana Field. Next week, the county will be setting up collection centers at fire stations throughout Pinellas.
To donate, and to see a full list of items needed: https://www.pced.org/page/donations
For all of the information on economic resources during Covid-19: https://www.pced.org/page/disaster