Small Business Matters: COVID-19 fatigue

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has hit business owners particularly hard. Not only do they have to deal with everything we all have to deal with, they somehow need to figure out a way to keep their businesses afloat in a time where it seems that all the powers that be are geared towards frustrating that goal. (Metro Creative/Special to West Hawaii Today

This has probably been the toughest year on record for most of us. You know the reasons. We’ve had wars before, past economic downturns have hit us hard, political crises we’ve all lived through, and personal crises and illness are the burdens of being human. But rarely before in our nation’s history have so many tribulations combined into perfect storms.

There’s also something particularly gruesome about the surreptitious way this storm has come upon us, not suddenly like an attack, and not expeditiously, hitting us and then leaving us battered and bruised but relieved that it has come and gone. This one snuck up on us and seemed to have caught us and our leaders unaware and unprepared, having unheeded warnings that it could be coming. And it’s lingering. It’s the unwelcome visitor who came and just never seems to want to leave, and it is exhausting.

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The pandemic has hit business owners particularly hard. Not only do they have to deal with everything we all have to deal with, they somehow need to figure out a way to keep their businesses afloat in a time where it seems that all the powers that be are geared towards frustrating that goal. Having lived through the first shock of the pandemic in the face of unprecedented shutdowns, sustained efforts to obtain emergency financing, and truly heroic efforts to keep workers employed, businesses are now faced with potentially doing it all over again.

But now this situation is more the new normal than a passing economic cloud to be endured. Now the reality has long since hit some businesses that there is no point in struggling to retain employees if there is no indication of when customers will be returning in anything approaching pre-pandemic numbers. And to top that all off, the cherry on the disaster sundae, sources of emergency funding have dried up.

Although it’s doubtful, maybe the funding situation will have changed by the time this hits print, but as of now, there seem to be no new federal funding efforts that have any reasonable chance of being implemented any time soon, either for businesses or for the unemployed. If by some miracle, that federal logjam has burst by the time you are reading this, that’s great, but it’s still taken way too long for that to have come to pass, and to have had a hiatus in public assistance at a time of critical economic weakness like this was unconscionable anyway.

The county program of $22 million for business assistance is in the process of being set up and the administrator of that program, Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union, has been selected. Funds for businesses should be flowing through that spigot soon, but this source of funding is capped at $10,000 per business. That will afford welcome relief for some small businesses, but that amount will have no lasting impact on many businesses where rent and utilities can eat that up in a month.

The Feds’ Main Street Lending program is operational, but, according to the Federal Reserve website, only four mainland banks, and no local banks, have taken up that program and made it available in Hawaii. Certainly, all banks have reviewed that program, but the loan structures are fairly complex, and banking resources have been stretched thin as it is with emergency lending and their upcoming forgiveness procedures. Add to that the large amounts banks have had to set aside for future losses, and you can’t really blame them for not jumping at another complicated federal program.

So, what’s left for businesses in the current situation is, frankly, pretty much being left to their own resources. It’s capitalism writ large with a capital C, and its entrepreneurial innovation to the max, but the truth is that many entrepreneurs are just plain tired. Tired of pivoting, that new buzzword, which describes re-working your business procedures to function with social distancing, new methods of product delivery and marketing, and very much altered cash flows.

It may be time to just appreciate that fact and take the pressure off of striving towards that perfect business pivot just for a moment. This has been hard and will continue to be hard indefinitely going forward. But give yourself a little figurative pat on the back if you’ve made it this far. Your business may not be thriving, but as the song goes, you’re still here, I hope. If that is you and that is your business, appreciate the fact that this has been the worst time your business will have had to endure, and hopefully you have endured this far. So, give yourself props for that, take a breath, and tomorrow start all over again.

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I keep saying this and I hope it’s true: this too shall pass.

Dennis Boyd is a regular contributor to West Hawaii Today. He is active in many aspects of the West Hawai’i business community and is a resident of North Kohala.

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