The first few weeks after Ohio announced its stay-at-home orders to slow the coronavirus spread, businesses were in a state of panic. “It was such a hard time, and our role was to help them move past the panic stage and get plans in place,” relates Lisa Hutson, director, Lorain County Community College (LCCC) Small Business development Center (SBDC).

In most cases, those plans involved applying for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). The PPP loan is designed to help businesses keep their workforces employed by helping to cover payroll, mortgage, rent and utilities. The EIDL provides working capital for small businesses. The programs started on March 27 with the CARES Act; yet navigating the application process and understanding evolving rules has been an ongoing challenge for small business owners.

The SBDC has been on the front lines to help the county’s business community. 

“We did a lot of Facebook Live sessions and Zoom calls on these topics,” Hutson says. “Getting the money was important, but also they needed to understand their cash position and cash flow. So, we address issues like, ‘Are you managing cash effectively?’ and, ‘Are you making necessary cuts?’”

Ultimately, the SBDC creates programs that respond to communities’ needs. So, it partnered with the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce to create a Lorain County COVID-19 grant, which resulted in, so far, distributing 34 $2,500 grants to local businesses.

“Businesses need to survive — but then the focus moves to reopening and how to turn surviving into thriving,” Hutson acknowledges.

This mindset gets to the root of the SBDC and LCCC. “We take seriously our role as the community’s college in serving whatever they need, including health and safety, and economic health,” says Tracy Green, LCCC’s vice president of strategic and institutional development. “Right now, the availability to be at the aid of companies that are the fabric of our communities and to help them through this crisis is essential.”

In many ways, the SBDC and LCCC is a front-line responder, Green points out. “These businesses have decided that Lorain County is where they want to build, and this is the place they want to give back. What’s on their mind first and foremost is their employees — and many of those employees are LCCC graduates,” she says, noting that 85 percent of graduates work in the county. “So, it’s a collective mission to help those companies stay in business and make their way through this time.

“On the positive side, we are still advising people who are talking about starting or buying businesses,” Hutson says. “We work with people thinking about starting a business, growing to selling and succession planning.”

The variety of entrepreneurs the organization serves is one of Hutson’s favorite aspects of acting as its director, noting that last year, the SBDC helped 352 individual companies, providing 1,200 hours of assistance.