Development groups talk economic impacts

Brendan Heidner Ranger-review Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 2020
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Jason Stuart

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Beth Epley

Amid the chaos COVID-19 has brought hardship for businesses – large and small alike – the Dawson County Economic Development Council and Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation reach out to small businesses in Glendive and surrounding regions to guide them through disaster relief resources.

“So far, we haven’t hit the level that some of the other places - even in Montana - have,” DCEDC Director Jason Stuart said Thursday prior to the governor’s order for restuarants, bars, casinos and more to close Friday.

However, as the spread of COVID-19 continues to impact communities, EPEDC Director Beth Epley sent out the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) worksheet for businesses to register for disaster assistance and begin connecting everyone with different resources.

“That wasn’t like an application for actual disaster assistance, that’s just enough to say, ‘hey, this is happening in my community, we’re impacted (and) we’d like to be part of the disaster declaration,’” Epley said.

With every county in the state of Montana approved to receive disaster funds, small businesses are able to obtain loans from SBA for up to $2 million.

While those loans would help numerous businesses, Epley noted she understands a lot of businesses do not want to take out more loans.

“That’s just one option,” she said.

At this time, Epley said SBA’s loan program is the main funding resource available for disaster assistance.

Despite that, there are other ways EPEDC is working with businesses.

One other way is by looking at their finances and evaluating where they can make budget cuts and revise their business plan.

“Just doing some analysis of, ‘alright, right now you don’t have this big income stream, how do we make it last,’” Epley added.

That includes working with local banks to see what contingency conditions are available such as possibly deferring payments for a period of time.

Epley explained there is a bit more flexibility with the banks in the smaller communities of Dawson, Prairie, Wibaux, Fallon and Carter counties she works with.

“We’re just trying to all figure it out, it’s a new thing for everyone,” she said.

Along with the financial hit businesses are taking during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are also getting laid off, putting them out of a job.

In light of that, Epley said those people are encouraged to immediately file for unemployment.

Normally, people would have to be unemployed for one week before filing and requirements to seek out other job opportunities in the meantime of their unemployment.

“Those provisions have been waived right now,” Epley said.

According to Epley, President Donald Trump did sign the first bill for COVID-19 support which includes waived fees for virus tests, two weeks paid sick leave for impacted workers as well as additional family leave if family members are impacted by the virus.

Aside from what businesses can do to help themselves and the impact it is having on employees, there are ways the community can help out as well.

Epley said she has made an effort - and encourages everyone to do the same - to find whatever they need locally before looking anywhere else like online.

“I know a lot of people default to Amazon because it has everything, but if there’s something that you could get in town, do that first or check there first,” Epley said. “And right now, Amazon’s not going to be any faster.”

Stuart also encouraged everyone to keep shopping locally at the small businesses in Glendive as long as they are able.

“As long the stores are open and the restaurants are open, there’s no reason for you not to patronize them,” he said.

Although local shopping is still encouraged during this time of hardship, Stuart added the hoarding of goods is unnecessary and people should only buy what they need.

“Stuff is moving (and) it will feel like a long time especially for our small businesses, but if we just keep doing our day-to-day stuff, we will make it through,” Epley said. “We’re all in this together.”

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