April 16, 2020 by Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
The city of Napa wants its residents to know there are ways they can help keep their favorite local businesses stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
City officials also want business owners to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of help available, and have launched some tools to do both.
It’s the city’s response to the “pain and confusion” that officials have been hearing from the business community, said Neal Harrison of Napa’s Economic Development Division. That includes developers, business owners, chambers of commerce and other associations.
“What do we do? Cash is key, and their cash flow got completely squeezed,” said Harrison.
“They are being crippled; can’t pay their lease, so the building owner can’t pay their mortgage, that’s why the federal government is trying to keep small businesses afloat. This is our way to help the local Napa community keep the Napa Valley economy alive. We want to go forward with the same vitality we’ve seen in the past few years. We don’t want to lose the momentum in our business community.”
To help achieve this goal, officials developed two flyers and launched a business resource page on the city website, designed to do just that, Harrison said.
“We are prioritizing supporting our local business community during the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “We are updating the website daily, and looking into other ways to help.”
The flyers suggest people can still patronize many of their favorite local restaurants, grocery stores, and other shops, which are open and delivering directly, and the city provides a list that is regularly updated to include new resources and opportunities that are being created every day, Harrison said.
The site and the flyers include links to local wineries, breweries and restaurants open for take-out or delivery, as well as tips from Visit Napa Valley on virtual tastings and wine shipping.
“Now is the perfect time to hunker down and get some of your holiday or birthday shopping out of the way,” he said.
“Buy gift cards, or donate to local charities that provide crucial relief for workers and businesses.”
Napa Valley Community Foundation launched a COVID-19 fund providing grants for both community health and unemployed workers, according to one of the flyers. Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) has resources, and there are a host of nonprofits with relief programs, it says.
“Local businesses are adapting to changing circumstances with online marketing, delivery services, and re-forecasted revenues,” that flyer said.
“Do you have skills and expertise that you could donate to a local business in this transition? Reach out to the Sonoma-Napa SBDC and start helping!”
Harrison said officials are working closely with the Economic Division’s key partners, including the Workforce Alliance, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Napa Chamber of Commerce, the Sonoma Napa Small Business Development Center and the Downtown Napa Association, “which are all key crucial points for information and economic development for our business community.”
“At the city level we were working with these groups to have a cohesive message and information to share with business community, with employees being laid off and such,” he said. “The city’s webpage is kept current as a source of information.”
One of the new flyers focuses on five actions the business community can take to stay afloat and that local community members can take to support local business, Harrison said.
“Its function is to offer a place to find information from us and our different partners,” he said. “For instance the regional level of the Small Business Administration helps small businesses apply for all the grants and loans coming out from the government. Also, there are a bunch of amazing webinars around showing how to help with cash flow during times of crisis, that type of thing. “
City officials’ efforts also focus on the community side, which, Harrison said, is “very much about supporting local — about the types of things people can do in the short term to help keep local businesses going.”
Federal and state government is working on providing financial assistance that most individual cities can’t, he said.
“The city is also hit hard with a financial shortfall,” he said.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to help the business community. We’re talking with different foundations, the Napa Community Foundation, for instance, may help in the future with community development. Financial institutions are building funds to help small businesses with bridge loans. We’re trying understand at the local and regional level how we can point our business community in the right direction. This is our response to the pandemic, right now.”
Besides the flyers and the webpage updates, there are also email updates being coordinated with the city’s various economic development partners, Harrison said.
“This is about retention and attraction,” he said.
“The business community is actively hurting, and to respond is our responsibility. The other thing is the flow of information – helping those companies get loans; learn how to change your business model to do more e-commerce; how to retain more employees. We felt this was important way to respond to the pandemic.”