First Lady Frances Wolf in a virtual conversation hosted on Facebook highlighted supports that exist for Pennsylvania’s small businesses, actions the administration has taken to support them, and small businesses that have gotten creative to keep their business moving and their employees and communities safe during COVID-19. This was the fourth conversation in a series titled, “The Bigger Picture”, an extension of One Lens: Sharing Our Common Views that hones in on various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, connecting this extraordinary moment to the broader community.
The full conversation can be found on the One Lens Facebook page.
“Pennsylvanians are, by nature, a creative and resilient people with a history of innovation and forward thinking, and that includes our small business community,” said First Lady Wolf. “These businesses are the life blood of our great commonwealth. They help sustain our communities in so many ways – financially, socially, physically, emotionally – and they are responsible, in part, for creating the culture of Pennsylvania. For this, we must thank them and do everything that we can to ensure they have what they need to continue moving Pennsylvania forward.”
Conversation panelists included:
- Carol Kilko, Deputy Secretary of Business Finance at the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development;
- Marcia McGavisk, Director of Capital Acquisition for the PA Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) at Kutztown University;
- Shannon Maldonado, Founder and Creative Director of YOWIE and One Lens Southeast Regional Ambassador;
- Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz, Owner of Mi Casa Su Casa Café and Reading Councilwoman;
- Daniel Betancourt, President and CEO of Community First Fund; and
- Heather Clark, Owner of Go Fish! Restaurant, Sushi Bar, and Seafood Market.
The small business professionals discussed the challenges of keeping businesses open and how they had to shift their strategies to continue providing for their communities.
Aside from discussing how the state continues to provide resources for the small business community, Carol Kilko commented on their tenacity and commitment to the people they serve. “As devastating as COVID-19 has been, one of the upsides that came from it is a newfound appreciation for the businesses and employees that put their health and safety on the line to get us through this pandemic,” said Kilko. “Small businesses had to get creative and change the way they did business – whether through offering outdoor dining for the first time, through pivoting manufacturing operations to produce PPE, through implementing online ordering or curbside pickup for the first time, and so much more. The result was that they kept their businesses and their communities running while protecting Pennsylvanians’ health and safety. Even with all of the divisions facing us today, one thing we can all agree on is that these people deserve our thanks and our support.”
Marcia McGavisk, too, spoke to the “Although I am deeply saddened by the struggles of so many small business owners during these troubling times, it is uplifting to watch those who are successfully finding their way through the storm.”
Shannon Maldonado shared how her business adjusted to a virtual format to stay connected to customers and how embracing a digital platform grew her business. “When we decided to close our shop in early March we knew we had to stay connected to our customers,” said Maldonado. “We started hosting virtual hands-on workshops and hosting virtual coffees with makers and artists seeking advice. Within a month we saw our sales begin to stabilize and we felt more connected to our audience than ever!”
Daniel Betancourt highlighted the role of economic development institutions in assisting small businesses, especially those that have been historically disenfranchised. “Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) have played an important role in supporting small businesses during the pandemic,” said Betancourt. “Community First collaborated with local economic development organizations, fellow CDFIs, and every level of government to develop grant and loan programs with a focus on providing relief to historically-disadvantaged businesses. We provided thousands of small businesses and nonprofits with millions to help them in their COVID recovery efforts and a return to normalcy.”
Resources exist to support Pennsylvania’s small business community during the pandemic. Most recently, the Wolf Administration announced the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program, which allocated $145 million in funding assistance to the hospitality industry businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses with questions or concerns should contact their local county offices, CEDO, or CDFI for more information.