Business Assistance Programs Help Pave the Road to Recovery

 June 08, 2020

Since early March, when the first COVID-19 cases began to appear in Arkansas, our daily lives and routines have been dramatically altered. As our healthcare professionals continue to battle on the front lines of the health crisis, the team at the Arkansas Department of Commerce has been fighting for our state’s businesses in the trenches of the economic crisis. Over the past three months, we have rolled out multiple programs to assist our state’s businesses, both owners and employees, as well as our hospitals. I wanted to share some of the results of these programs.

As the federal government was preparing to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in early April, we were hearing from small businesses across the state that needed immediate funds to maintain their payrolls and keep their doors open while they waited for traditional loans and PPP applications to be reviewed, processed and paid. The team at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) quickly responded by offering the Quick Action Bridge Loan Program through an allocation of $6,000,000 from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund and an additional $3,000,000 from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s Consumer Education and Enforcement Fund. These forgivable loans of up to $25,000 were specifically designed for organizations with between two and 50 employees. Our team expedited the loan requests, allowing these emergency funds to be sent to small business owners in short order. More than 400 organizations throughout the state were able to secure these loans at a critical time.

On April 20, the Department of Commerce announced a program to provide $10 million in financial assistance to 27 rural hospitals in the state with operations that have been severely impacted by the pandemic. The funds were administered through AEDC’s Community Development Block Grant program. As Governor Asa Hutchinson pointed out, “Rural hospitals are the backbone of care for hundreds of thousands of Arkansans. Those with lower numbers of beds are particularly impacted by the changes in care brought by the crisis. These hospitals are needed now and in the future. We must continue to support their operations and stand ready to help as we work through this national emergency.”

In addition to the $10 million awarded directly to rural hospitals through this program, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) received $500,000 for the Institute for Digital Health and Innovation (IDHI) COVID-19 Statewide Education Outreach Project, which will bring education and support to all Arkansas hospitals with an emphasis on rural and critical access hospitals.

Click here to see a map of the hospital locations throughout the state.

As Arkansas businesses begin to make plans to reopen and ramp up towards full capacity, they face unplanned expenses associated with providing a safe working environment for employees and customers. Employees need to trust that it is safe to return to work, and customers need confidence that they can safely visit shops, restaurants, and other businesses.

To help statewide businesses with these incremental expenses, we created an innovative new program designed to help offset the costs of doing business in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Arkansas Ready for Business Grant Program, administered by AEDC, distributed federal funds from the CARES Act to help businesses and non-profit organizations cover expenses incurred to ensure the health and safety of employees and patrons.

Examples of eligible expenses include personal protective equipment (PPE), no-contact thermometers for employees and customers, no-contact Point of Sale (POS) payment equipment, supplies and disinfectants to deep clean premises, hiring a third party to perform periodic deep cleaning services, hand sanitizer stations, restocking of necessary supplies and raw materials, and other one-time expenses associated with reopening or resuming normal operations.

As of June 8, 2020, more than $125 million in grants have been distributed to 11,196 businesses and organizations across every county in Arkansas. Those receiving assistance represent the state’s diverse economy, including businesses in the food and beverage, retail, healthcare, manufacturing, and services industries, as well as non-profits and others. 94% of companies that received a grant have less than 50 employees. Minority-owned businesses made up 25% of the recipients and women-owned businesses accounted for 33% of those receiving grants. In short, the lion’s share of these grants was allocated to small businesses at the heart of the Arkansas economy that are the most vulnerable to these extra expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click here to view an infographic that depicts the Arkansas Ready for Business Grant Program results.

We heard from many of the businesses that received grants, expressing their appreciation for these much-needed funds. Here is a small sample:

“This is absolutely wonderful news! Thank you for letting us know on this Sunday afternoon. I cannot express what it means to know we can keep our small workforce in motion. We need our employees and they need us.”

“Thank you so much. This is going to have a huge positive impact on our organization.”

“Our small nonprofit organization is beyond excited and grateful for this funding. We have started to resume supervised visitations between children and their non-custodial parents at our Center – this funding will be the difference in making it possible.”

The road to economic recovery during the pandemic has taken Arkansans through challenging, uncharted territory, as we continue to experience unprecedented unemployment and many businesses have had to make difficult decisions to layoff or furlough staff. But there are signs of hope. Under Governor Hutchinson’s leadership and measured approach during this health and economic crisis, Arkansas is beginning to make its way back. More businesses are open, people are returning to marketplaces across the state, and business leaders are reporting positive signals. If we all work together to patiently follow the guidelines outlined by the Arkansas Health Department, we’ll be successful in restoring our economy back to normal levels. And we all know that in Arkansas, our version of “normal” means a thriving economy in which our people have opportunities to enjoy all that life has to offer in the Natural State.

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Blog post contributed by:

Mike Preston

Secretary of Commerce, Executive Director
Arkansas EconomicDevelopment Commission