As 2020 limps to a close under the cloud of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, business owners are no less concerned about what 2021 may have in store for them.
While many managed to pivot and find ways to survive amid a seemingly endless onslaught of lockdowns, restrictions and oft-changing mandates this year, most of those moves are not viable long term.
Further, even as restaurants, for example, can open with reduced capacities, outdoor dining and carryout, other organizations such as theaters and event facilities have few workable options in the pandemic especially with the continuing reluctance of patrons to return.
Early in the crisis, many businesses took advantage of emergency funding provided by the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which allowed them to stave off immediate layoffs of their employees. But when the PPP money ran out, rent and other overhead costs remained with little business coming through the door to fund it.
The State of Illinois stepped up in August to provide additional money in the form of the Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, aid available to small businesses statewide that experienced losses due to the pandemic.
The Orland Park Chamber of Commerce got to work to ensure that members knew about the grants.
“As an advocate and informational hub for members, the chamber promoted this opportunity through email blasts, social media and webinars,” says executive director Felicitas Cortez, noting that several of the chamber's more than 600 members received grants of $10,000 to $20,000 from the initial BIG program.
After the initial $49 million was depleted (targeting mainly restaurants, personal care services, gyms and fitness clubs), the DCEO authorized a second round of stimulus, sending Cortez and her team back out with another campaign of emails, social media posts and webinars to inform as many local businesses about the program as possible.
The state began accepting applications for this new round of grants in late September, and the plan was to keep sending out checks until the pool of $220 million was depleted. While at least half of that total was earmarked for businesses Downstate, Cortez knows that Orland Park business owners are looking for whatever help they can get.
And as the uncertainty of the pandemic stretches into 2021, she hopes that more state and federal help will be forthcoming. Every little bit will help keep Orland Park in business until things start to more markedly improve over the long term, she says. And the Chamber of Commerce will be there every step of the way to give its members the information and support they need.
“I am hoping out of all hope for more assistance,” Cortez says. “The business community, especially industries like hospitality and food/beverage, have been hit hard. They need all the assistance they can possibly get.”
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