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COPING WITH COVID: Lowcountry Local First

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Coping with COVID

SC Biz News is speaking with small businesses and community leaders about the impact of the new coronavirus on business and industry, and how this is changing how they operate.
Contact Andy Owens, aowens@scbiznews.com, with any questions or ideas.


HaleyJamee Haley says Lowcountry Local First has been working practically nonstop for more than a fortnight.

“Our team has never worked harder than they have in the last two weeks,” said Haley, the executive director of the nonprofit. “I mean, everybody’s having to make tough decisions, and we’re hoping that there’s somebody coming through on a white horse soon.”

Lowcountry Local First has been focused on advocacy at nearly every level of government. Efforts include pushing the federal government to pass the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill; asking the state government to suspend tax payments for businesses sooner rather than later; and pushing the city of Charleston to approve a relief fund to help small businesses get back to work.

Charleston City Council considered a relief fund on Tuesday but deferred the issue because of concerns over the source of the funding.

Haley said it’s “pretty imperative” that local relief funds be made available soon because small businesses typically have only 27 days of operating capital on hand; restaurants typically have 16. Relief from the federal government could take six to eight weeks to arrive.

“I would be shocked if federal government could move quickly on these loans,” she said.

Haley added that she’s still encouraging businesses to apply for loans from the Small Business Administration, though she’s recommending that people try late at night or early in the morning because the SBA website is having trouble handling the incoming traffic.

Other than advocacy, Haley said Lowcountry Local First has been trying to support local businesses by making sure they have all the information they need to carry on through the pandemic. The nonprofit has been hosting webinars about loans that are available to small businesses and strategies that business owners can use to manage their companies remotely.

Lowcountry Local First has set up a hotline that businesses can call if they have questions or need help, as well as another hotline for business owners to share good news with the community.

“We’re kind of highlighting those local heroes who’re really going above and beyond just to shift what they’re doing to address the current coronavirus crisis,” Haley said.

Some highlights include bow tie maker Brackish’s shift to making masks for medical workers; local farmers providing deliveries to people’s homes to disperse goods that would typically go to restaurants; and restaurants moving completely to curbside pickup or delivery.

“I could go on and on with amazing stories of people really trying to pivot during this unprecedented time where we have gone into an accelerated recession,” Haley said.

Lowcountry Local First has also been trying to help set businesses up to hit the ground running once the pandemic is over.

“Instead of dwelling on what’s lost, you know, kind of try to focus on the future and what do they need to be doing differently,” Haley said. “How can they make sure that they come out guns blazing when this ideally crashes in, who knows, a month or two?”

She added that businesses need to make sure they’re not burning any bridges with customers during this time.

“Even if it does hurt — because it will hurt — ideally they’ll recover those losses and some of these loans and grants,” Haley said. “But it won’t recover that client or that customer if you don’t treat everybody in the same way that they would want to be treated if they were in that situation.”

Haley said it’s important, too, for people to make sure their physical and mental health are not suffering.

“We all just need to ... take a pause, take care of yourself and kind of try to look for that light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “Because I think it does exist.”

Reach Patrick Hoff at 843-849-3144.

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