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Nonprofit Offers Emergency Loans to Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19 Outbreak

Huntsville-based nonprofit Neighborhood Concepts Inc. is offering emergency loans to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Acting through its subsidiary the North Alabama Revolving Loan Fund, LLC, NCI will offer working capital loans up to $25,000 to help small businesses cover operating expenses in instances where their monthly income is insufficient to cover their monthly obligations due to circumstances related to COVID-19.

Since 2013, NCI has been offering loans to small businesses in North Alabama that are not ready for traditional financing. Many of the businesses are food-related or others that lack sufficient capital to weather any disruptions.

“We are working with our existing borrowers to offer modifications and deferments to help them ride out the storm but wanted to do more to help meet the needs of local businesses in our area,” said NCI Executive Director Mary Ellen Judah.  In response to this need, NCI’s board of directors acted quickly to authorize the $25,000 emergency line of credit product.

Small businesses in North Alabama who have been impacted by recent closures or other COVID-19 disruptions may apply for up to $25,000 to fund operating expenses.  The loans will be structured as a non-revolving six-month line of credit at a fixed rate of 5 percent.

“Borrowers must have been in business for at least 12 months and be able to meet certain other eligibility requirements, but our intent is to streamline the application process so we can get the funds in the hands of qualifying businesses relatively quickly,” said NCI Loan Fund Manager John Thornton.

NCI plans to have an electronic application available on its website this week.  Until then, e-mail jthornton@neighborhoodconcepts.org or call 256-534-0075, ext. 404.

 

TVA’s IT on Frontline for COVID-19 Pandemic Safety

Employees around the nation are heeding the call to limit their personal interactions by teleworking.

In the process, teleworking has stressed IT networks and is spotlighting cybersecurity concerns for businesses around the world.

TVA IT prepared for mass telework by running drills to simulate a real-life activation of enterprise-wide work-at-home procedures. (Photo/Tennessee Valley Authority)

“First and foremost, TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) IT continues to work around the clock to ensure business continuity and identify, protect, detect and respond to issues that could threaten critical cyber assets,” said Jeremy Fisher, TVA’s Chief Information Officer. “We continually invest in our IT and cybersecurity programs, and the team is working to keep employees connected and the power flowing in the midst of the pandemic.”

The move for employees to work remotely is challenging the nation’s IT resources in an unprecedented way.

Tech giants such as Google and Microsoft are rushing to secure and enable systems to support exponentially higher use of VPN and other systems, such as WebEx, that enable successful telework.

NetworkWorld reported on March 19 that research by one VPN vendor shows that VPN usage in the U.S. grew by 53 percent between March 9 and 15, and it could grow faster. In addition, Cisco reported its WebEx platform increase 33 times over two weeks ago.

According to Fisher, TVA has seen virtual connectivity grow from 1,689 users on March 18 to more than 4,700 on March 19. Fisher said this is more than double the usage for a normal day, and TVA IT maintained a 99.8 percent application availability. 

“We could not have doubled our users overnight without proper planning and a great team of IT professionals,” said Fisher. “We have a structure that allows all our IT employees to contribute to the mission of keeping power flowing to nearly 10 million people.”

TVA IT prepared for mass telework by running drills to simulate a real-life activation of enterprise-wide work-at-home procedures. To help increase employee support, TVA’s internal IT Help Desk increased hours to address any emergent concerns or the increase of employee IT questions during this time.

“We’ve hit a few peaks and firsts for IT this month,” said Fisher. “The overall response from the IT team during the Coronavirus outbreak has been outstanding. This is an “all-hands-on-deck” situation, and the team has a commitment to collaboration, problem-solving and communication as issues have come up.

“Not only have we had to respond to issues with our own systems, but we are also tackling issues that are taxing even the biggest tech companies. We are seeing the value of IT in action.”

 

New State Regulations Limit Gatherings, Ban Dining-in

The Public Health Officer for the State of Alabama released a new list of stringent containment policies for communities to follow to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include full school closures, senior center closures, pre-school and child care closures, nursing home restrictions, delayed elective-medical procedures, limited gatherings of no more than 25 persons, bar closures, and no on-premise consumption of food and beverages in restaurants.

Mayor Tommy Battle said the City of Huntsville will immediately follow these policies in the best interest of public health.

“This is a challenging time for our communities. I remain grateful for the way our residents and businesses have been working together to adhere to the public health guidelines and support each other in this time of need.

To our business community, as a former restaurateur, my heart goes out to you, and to all of our companies and residents who lives have been disrupted by this virus.  The Alabama Health Department has determined these precautions are necessary and we will follow their guidance.”

Battle said Huntsville residents should remain calm but must take coronavirus seriously.

“We’re a smart community, and we’ll be smart about stopping this virus,” he said. “Let’s continue to fully follow health recommendations for social distancing, to remain six feet apart, and wash hands regularly.”

Retail and Restaurant Owner Online Town Hall Meeting Set for Friday

The South Huntsville Main Business Association is hosting an online town hall meeting at 10 a.m. Friday for restaurant and retail business owners regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.

Expected are:
– City leaders on the latest recommendations and best practices for protecting staff and customers
– How to transition businesses online by offering curbside or delivery service
– Ideas on how to engage customer-base online
– Questions answered by local HR professionals and the Alabama Department of Labor
– Local resources to help during this transition.
This is available only to the first 300 attendees. The webinar will be recorded.

Registration is 9:45 a.m. (Central) at Zoom – https://zoom.us/meeting/register/vp0kcOuupz8tMB_jA32BlF6FBUGW0FN96A

After registering, participants will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

How to Help Neighborhood Businesses During the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Bekah Schmidt

It has never been more important to support our local small business community. The Coronavirus outbreak is affecting brick and mortars all over the nation, and no business is immune to this national emergency.

Here are five ways you can support small businesses in Huntsville, from your couch or car.

  1. Order takeout or delivery from your favorite independent restaurants

Your favorite restaurant may have shut its doors, but you can still order online through apps such as Grub Hub, Grub South, Door Dash and more. Independent restaurant owners are transitioning their servers to deliverers. Call the store first and ask what the best delivery method is for the restaurant. Most restaurants are offering curbside service too, which allows for touchless delivery to your vehicle. If you do use an online delivery app, Grub Hub is waiving fees for independent restaurant owners, so more of your money will end up in the restaurant owner’s pocket.

  1. Look for take and bake options or ready-made meals

Several businesses are offering meals to go for the whole family versus individual meals. This is more cost effective for the business owner and consumer and requires less touch points in handling of the food. Good Company Café is offering a “take and bake” menu, and Kathleen’s Catering is offering dinner for 6 for $35.99! Ordering dinner from a local restaurant, versus going to the grocery store reduces the amount of touch points and exposure you have to the general public. (A small restaurant might have a staff of five or less – going to the grocery store you are exposed to hundreds of people.) One last tip, you can also freeze the meals for later.

  1. Shop your favorite local retailers online

Retail stores are moving their business online and to their social media accounts – which is where customers are, too. You can still pick up a birthday gift for a friend or find the perfect home décor for spring from your couch. Businesses are posting their products online and invoicing customers. Other retailers are offering curbside pickup or delivery. Ruth’s Nutrition, a vitamin store in South Huntsville, is taking orders and payments over the phone, and bringing your order to your car, so you don’t have to leave your vehicle.

  1. Purchase a Gift Card

Purchasing a gift card to a local business is a great way to support the local economy right now. The business gets the cash they need now – and you get to treat yourself later! Most businesses offer gift cards online. If you don’t see a gift card online option, call the store. Business owners are mailing out gift certificates to customers or offering curbside gift card delivery. Even if it is only $20, it makes a huge difference for our local businesses.

  1. Write a positive review

The Coronavirus outbreak has caught everyone off guard and our small business owners are all feeling the pressure of the unknown. As a customer you can like, comment, share and review our businesses and inspire others to do the same. It takes less than a minute to leave a positive review. When you review a business, you build consumer confidence and encourage others to shop local. As many businesses transition to doing most of their business online, business owners will rely on your feedback to improve their processes.

Bekah Schmidt is the executive director of the South Huntsville Main Business Association.

 

 

 

 

The Catalyst Center Going Remote; Providing Updates for Small Businesses

A Statement from The Catalyst

Like all of you, we have been closely monitoring the updates and impacts of the COVID-19 virus. We wanted to let you know that we will be operating remotely in the upcoming weeks in hopes of reducing the spread of this virus. We have been preparing for this over the past week to ensure that our clients will continue to receive prompt services.
Small businesses are a vital part of the U.S. economy. With the recent news and concerns of the coronavirus (COVID-19), The Catalyst is sharing the latest business resources, assistance and guidance. Please read the following important update to The Catalyst operations now in effect.
  • Workshops. Our workshops may be postponed or held online. If you have registered for an event, you will be notified directly on whether the event is being postposed or if there is an online option. For any questions please contact us at info@catalystcenter.org.
  • Coaching Sessions. Coaches are available to participate in remote coaching sessions via phone, email and video. This slow-down may be the perfect opportunity for you to fit in some personal development or business coaching! Please contact us at 256 428-8190 or info@catalystcenter.org or if you would like to schedule a coaching session.
  • SBA Guidance & Assistance for Small Businesses. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has posted information regarding loan programs and guidance for businesses: Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  • CDC Guidance & Prevention Protocols for Businesses. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has issued COVID-19 guidance for businesses and is updating them as new developments occur.
Please refer to the following links for the most up-to-date information about COVID-19:
The health of small business owners, their employees and our network of volunteers remain our top priority.
The Catalyst is committed to providing the best services we can during this difficult time. We will keep you updated as resources and guidance become available.
Joanne Randolph
President & CEO

‘To Go’ is the Way to Go for Dining During COVID-19 Emergency

With health agencies recommending against public gatherings, local businesses and restaurants have come up with new strategies and practices to stay in business.

“There are a lot of unknowns but I think people are doing a really good job trying to discern best practices that will keep the customers safe while also providing them with things they need like food,” said Downtown Huntsville Inc. President/CEO Chad Emerson. “I’ve been very pleased with seeing how everyone is willing to consider new approaches especially in the immediate term.”

Emerson spoke to the Huntsville Business Journal about what his organization is doing to keep the food and beverage industry apprised of current events surrounding the virus.

“We’re continuing to gather as much useful information as possible and to share it as efficiently as possible,” Emerson said. “We’re looking at what other cities that are further along in the process because they were exposed to the situation earlier than we were, are using that can help us develop some best practices.

“We have a lot of really smart people here in Huntsville that are resilient, and they are committed to trying new ways to serve the public.”

Go to https://www.downtownhuntsville.org/blog to find Best Practices information. It is updated regularly.

“Every Monday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. we’re having general updates and information via conference call,” Emerson said. “This is information we are gleaning both locally as well as from other downtowns.

“It is really an opportunity to try to give everyone a chance to be heard and to ask questions. We have designed it for downtown operators, mostly for food and beverage operators, but any of those establishments around Huntsville and Madison are welcome to call in. It is a team effort citywide.”

Emerson also wanted to stress that currently, all downtown restaurants are open for business. Many are increasing To-Go options to the point in which they will bring food out to your car; some are expanding their delivery options; and almost all are modifying their in-restaurant dining experience to increase the distance between guests.

“Even if the in-restaurant dining experience is limited or closed in the days ahead, most of the restaurants we are dealing with are continuing to operate,” he said. “So, if you have a favorite restaurant where you usually go out to dine, check their social media or call them and ask them what their options are including delivery and To-Go.”

Downtown Huntsville does not have any food truck events scheduled, but social media is the best place to find out whether some of them will be set up somewhere remotely. Emerson said no one has called a halt to food trucks right now but the Food Truck Corral at NASA has been postponed.

In terms of retail, Emerson said, “We’re finding that people have more time, and they may not be gathering as often at large public events but people are still interested in getting out of the house and keeping life going as normally as possible, and that includes buying new goods they need.”

 

Berryhill: COVID-19 not ‘Doomsday Virus’ but Poses Risk and Consequences

MADISON — Addressing the elephant in the room at the recent meeting of the Tennessee Valley Republican Club,  Madison County Coroner Dr. Tyler Berryhill offered an assessment of the global coronavirus outbreak.

“The biggest thing I want people to know is yes, this virus does pose risks and consequences, absolutely … everyone is pulling together to fight the spread, but this is not the doomsday virus,” Berryhill said. “Everything is going to be OK.”

Berryhill said that right now, the mortality rate is probably going to be between one and two percent, but not likely to be above two.

“A lot of people are going to have symptoms no more serious than a cough or a cold, and a couple of days later, they’ll be fine,” he said. “There are some people that will never have the symptoms at all.

“But if we stay between one and two percent, out of 100 people, that’s one or two people – that’s still people’s lives … so the most important thing people need to know is yes, it’s something that needs to be dealt with. If the coronavirus has the same exposure that influenza does, which it doesn’t right now, it does have a higher mortality rate.”

He went on to say that in the past 60 to 90 days, he has had six people die of influenza here in Madison County. However, the great measures being taken across the country to reduce the transmission means that in the end, it is nowhere near as lethal as the initial SARS in 2003 or even the MERS virus of 2015.

Berryhill also said there are repercussions to shutting down schools.

“It’s not so much that children have been getting the virus because they haven’t, but children will shed the virus, causing a lot of hardship for working people and the healthcare community,” he said. “I’ve seen some reports where 30 to 40 percent of the nurses in this country have children, and all of a sudden, they have to come home, which creates a window of sick leave in which there are going to be shortages.”

He said parents should also be careful about sending their kids to stay with grandparents, especially those who are older and who have underlying health conditions, because they are the most vulnerable.

“The biggest piece to remember is that everything is going to be OK,” he concluded. “Some people have implied that had Ebola spread like this … COVID-19 is nothing like that, but it is something of concern.”

 

Local Small Businesses Take COVID-19 Hit, Vow Flexibility

MADISON — Some small businesses aren’t going to make it, but those who do are vowing to hunker down and do what it takes to survive.

That was the overall sentiment coming from small business owners, state and local government officials, and members of the Tennessee Valley Republican Club as they gathered Saturday morning at Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza in Madison.

Sharing coffee, donuts, music and fist bumps instead of handshakes, the meeting was a mixture of rallying cry behind small business, common reassurances, the medical perspective, politics, a sharing of best practices, and a call to find flexible alternatives and solutions that will get each other through the days ahead in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

There was one common theme however – COVID-19 may stymie growth and delay the opening of new stores and restaurants, but local businesses are used to delays … the weather and labor shortages have held up roadwork, traffic and construction all over the county for the past 10 years.

And if fits and starts and problems and delays – as frustrating as they may be – dispirited the Rocket City, then Watercress Capital of the World would still be Huntsville’s claim to fame!

Stan Stinson of Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza in Huntsville and Madison; and Dan Perry of Straight to Ale are experiencing new meanings to the idea that entrepreneurs are willing to take risks – even those that are unforeseeable.

And Perry is no stranger to hard fights.

The engineer started his Straight to Ale Brewery in 2009 after the “Free the Hops” grassroots nonprofit organization succeeded in increasing the alcohol by volume (ABV) limit in beer from 6 percent to 13.9 percent. That, in itself, took an “act of Congress”, but the disruption caused by COVID-19 offers new challenges to his expanded 55,000 square-foot facility at Campus 805.

Stinson said there will be some businesses that do not survive it, but he does not intend to be one of them. That doesn’t mean however, he won’t take a hit.

He rushed to get his new Self Serve Drinkery open in time for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Huntsville. However, the annual celebration was, itself, a casualty of COVID-19.

“I estimate I lost $7,000 in business at the downtown location of Earth and Stone (last) Saturday when the parade shut down,” he said. “And probably at least $2,000 at the Self Serve Drinkery. But who really knows, it being our first day open.

“To give you some perspective, Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza opens on parade day at 8 a.m. because people begin celebrating that early, and we are usually packed. At noon this Saturday, we had our first two customers.”

Stinson was also looking to open two additional restaurants this month: the Bark & Barrel BBQ on County Line Road in Madison and a new eatery at the Stovehouse.

“We will be meeting this week to discuss the way forward,” he said.

Mayor Battle: ‘Take a Step Back … Take a Deep Breath’

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle urged people to avoid panic shopping and hysteria in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

His comments came at a news conference Monday with Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Birdwell, and local health care and public safety partners.

“We all need to take a step back and take a deep breath,” he said.

At the mayors’ requests, the Huntsville and Madison city councils each passed three-week states of emergency. The action will authorize the cities to avoid regular council procedure and take immediate action as needed to help fight COVID-19.

Battle, Finley and Madison County Commission Chair Dale Strong have been in regular communication with EMA, hospitals, HEMSI, ADPH, Redstone Arsenal and state partners on timely and coordinated action items to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

David Spillers, CEO of Huntsville Hospital, said, “We still have regular flu out there and other illnesses haven’t stopped.”

He also said the hospital has canceled elective surgeries to save supplies and keep staff available.

“We recognize this is serious, and we are practicing all precautions while ensuring essential government services and protections remain in tact,” said Battle. “This team is working together. These are not normal times but we want to be as normal as possible.

“The City of Huntsville is still collecting garbage and our police and fire units remain on duty. Public transportation will run. We urge people to ‘sanitize and separate’.”

Dr. Pam Hudson of Crestwood Hospital said the facility is “open for business” but with restrictions.

“No one under the age of 16 (will be allowed to visit patients),” she said. “There is one visitor per patient and visitors will be screened.

“Our goal is to keep our patients safe and our staff safe.”

Battle said the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries may be hit the hardest, with people self-isolating themselves but “we’ll try to help.”

Unlike other municipalities, Huntsville and Madison are not closing restaurants and bars but, Battle said, “restaurants will be self-regulating” by following the state health department guidelines of limiting its customers to half of the capacity of the business.