The top of Denny Chimes seen through trees.

UA Program Helps Small Businesses During Pandemic

The top of Denny Chimes seen through trees.Over the last five months, a program based at The University of Alabama helped thousands of small businesses in the state successfully access federal disaster funds to preserve local jobs and navigate financial challenges during the pandemic.

In response to the coronavirus outbreak in March, much of the country’s — and Alabama’s — economy was put on sudden hold. Massive numbers of small businesses throughout Alabama quickly found themselves in a cash crunch and in great need of immediate relief.

The Alabama Small Business Development Center, a part of UA’s Office for Research and Economic Development, spearheaded an effort to help small businesses access two important federal disaster loan programs to survive the downturn.

“The University of Alabama is proud to partner with the state’s small business community in protecting jobs and businesses during this unprecedented situation, and the Alabama Small Business Development Center will continue in its support of our state’s vital small businesses,” said Dan Blakley, associate vice president of the UA Office for Economic and Business Engagement.

The federal government — through the U.S. Small Business Administration — quickly rolled out the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans to provide vitally needed liquidity for businesses and preserve jobs.

As a longtime SBA resource partner, the SBDC delivered over 55 workshops on the technical details of the application and loan process, addressing frequent changes in the programs.

Approximately 6,600 individuals participated in the webinars led by SBDC capital access specialists. Based on a survey of participants, $117 million was secured as a result of SBDC assistance; 434 firms received the EIDL advance; 106 firms received the EIDL; and 773 firms received PPP funding.

The pandemic’s impact on the state’s small business sector, which accounts for an estimated 789,000 employees, or 48% of Alabama’s private sector workforce, has been devastating. The restaurant and hospitality sectors were especially hard hit.

“The past few months have undoubtedly been the most difficult times we’ve experienced as businesses,” said Charles Morgan III, owner of Chuck’s Fish and Five restaurants. “The support and guidance of Paavo Hanninen and Suzanne Darden from the SBDC played an important part in helping our entire organization with the EIDL and PPP process.”

Robert Craft, mayor of Gulf Shores, Alabama, said it was important that local businesses get disaster funds quickly.

“The SBDC provided us with the latest information to make it happen,” Craft said. “We are climbing our way back, but we’re not out of the water yet.”

Even in these extraordinarily tough times, small businesses have pursued opportunities created by the rapidly changing economy. The Bessemer-based BLOX company designed an innovative Mobile Isolation Care Unit, a ready-made unit for hospitals and health providers that enables them to expand patient care capacity fast and efficiently.

“It’s amazing what the BLOX team has done so quickly since the pandemic hit,” said Brian Giattina, chief financial officer. “In the middle of chaos, the SBDC gave us valuable information to help navigate us through regulatory issues and assisted us in finding resources during the start of the pandemic.”

Small businesses will continue to face challenges going forward. The SBA recently provided additional financial support through a grant for the Alabama SBDC to increase assistance to small businesses, especially in heavily hit market sectors and rural areas.

The Alabama SBDC provides training and confidential advising services in all 67 counties in Alabama for business start-up, growth and access to capital. Hosted at UA, part of the University of Alabama System, it operates as a partnership program with SBA, the state of Alabama and higher education members.

For more information and updates on other programs, visit the center’s website.