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The Oklahoma Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has been advising Oklahoma’s small businesses for 36 years, and the organization has been a saving grace recently for many Oklahomans going through unprecedented hardship.
The economic shutdown stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic has had an untold impact on our country’s small businesses. An April report by Main Street America cited that three-quarters of businesses had seen their revenues cut in half since shutdowns started in March. Of the businesses surveyed, 57% reported their revenues had dropped by 75% or more.
More than ever, companies are reaching out to the Oklahoma SBDC for help with disaster loan applications, financial management, marketing or operational support. Since the shutdown, the Oklahoma SBDC has helped its clients maintain more than 26,000 jobs in the state.
McAlester furniture store owner Trevor Tannehill said he contacted the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center on March 23 — a day when no one walked through the doors of Tannehill Furniture.
Tannehill was already working with the Oklahoma SBDC, having contacted the organization in 2018 for help developing an action plan after buying the store from his grandmother.
Oklahoma SBDC business advisor Henry Lehr has been working with him to stabilize and grow the business. Earlier this year, Tannehill said he had gained an understanding and control of his inventory.
Lehr had already helped him with strategic planning, business management skills and financial planning. Through this one-on-one consulting, Tannehill had adjusted his business relationships and developed a marketing plan.
But when the store’s growth was jeopardized by the COVID-19 shutdown, Tannehill once again contacted Lehr for support. Lehr worked with him to apply for available SBA loan programs. Tannehill received both the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Paycheck Protection Loan, which allowed him to maintain his employees and keep his business operational.
“If I had not already been working with the Oklahoma SBDC, my business would not have been positioned to obtain the funding to survive the disaster,” Tannehill said.
The pandemic’s impact has caused many other businesses to reach out for assistance too. Since mid-March, almost 800 new clients have contacted the Oklahoma SBDC for help in addition to the clients already being seen.
One of those new clients was J. Brad Johnson, owner of C&J Services, an oilfield service and trucking company in Fox. With the assistance of Oklahoma SBDC advisor Darryl Carter, Johnson applied for and received PPP funding, which will help him retain 18 employees during the pandemic and petroleum market crash.
Because of working with Carter, Johnson inquired about government contracting and is now working with Carter on the initial steps to gain eligibility to pursue this revenue source.
Other clients have worked with Oklahoma SBDC advisors in the pandemic’s wake to pivot their business whether it’s getting help to better manage cash flow, adapt a brick-and-mortar business to e-commerce or to get connected to produce PPE equipment to meet demands of the medical community.
As companies have realized the need to alter operations, the Oklahoma SBDC has changed its delivery and services to address new needs as well. Client meetings were changed to Zoom meetings, phone calls, emails and texts, all while maintaining strict confidentiality with the client.
Almost 70 online trainings were added to address the needs of businesses seeking help about EIDL, PPP and USDA programs as well as pandemic-related topics such as unemployment fraud, social media marketing during a downturn, pandemic business rebooting and changes for employers in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
“The Oklahoma SBDC has been on the front lines during this pandemic helping businesses navigate the disaster relief loans and programs that have been provided through various agencies as a result of the CARES Act,” said Michele Campbell Hockersmith, Oklahoma SBDC state director.
“We are able to expand our services as a result of funds provided through the CARES Act via SBA, and those efforts will focus on areas of the state where we do not have a current advisor or need to bolster expertise. It will be moving into areas like cybersecurity where businesses need to grow stronger to be more resilient.”
Business advisors have already been added in both rural and metro areas to help businesses with general business advising, business resiliency and changing business models to be relevant during and after the crisis.
Additional programs are being added to support the areas of food safety, intellectual property rights, technology, aerospace and cybersecurity. Programs are also being added to help Johnson and other businesses that are interested in government contracting.
Despite the uncertainty for business owners, the Oklahoma SBDC is dedicated to helping people in our state succeed. “Our work always involves helping businesses start and grow as well as mitigating any challenge to their resiliency,” Hockersmith said.
“We remain committed to helping grow Oklahoma’s economy one small business at a time. And, even in these perilous times, our focus is not only helping a business survive, but helping it evolve and grow.”