Jordan Schulties, Special to the USA TODAY Network Published 3:45 a.m. ET May 21, 2021
Karl Baker and Jeanne Kuang break down their investigation, which found many beneficiaries of small business relief money don’t appear to have operations in the state. Delaware News Journal
Owning a small business has always meant taking a leap of faith.
As they risk turning dream into reality, entrepreneurs implicitly agree to courageously face all the challenges that can come with the endeavor.
Perhaps no year has made this clearer than the past one, in which we have together battled the health and economic threats of COVID-19.
This terrible disease has claimed the lives of more than 1,600 of our fellow Delawareans.
And the fact is without the strength, creativity and compassion of the state’s thousands of small business owners that number could be and likely would be even higher.
They have gone to great lengths to keep customers safe and helped Delaware to begin to return to normal.
A new normal.
And, perhaps unexpectedly, an improved normal for many businesses.
New business models and new revenue streams have been the inventions borne out of necessity during the pandemic. Many are here to stay and provide consumers with more options and richer experiences.
Kee’s Cupcakes in Clayton began selling at-home baking kits and started offering virtual classes.
In Newark, Caffe Gelato opened an online grocery, moved wine pairing dinners to YouTube and expanded outdoor dining. The Italian eatery used a DE Relief Grant to help fund its new socially distant seating arrangements.
More than 4,000 businesses from Claymont to Delmar and Lewes to Newark received a total of nearly $190 million through that grant program, which was created using the State and New Castle County’s CARES Act funds. With an average award amount greater than $45,000, Delaware’s program provided arguably the most significant aid of any statewide effort in the country.
Prior to DE Relief Grants, the State had already created the Hospitality Emergency Loan Program, or HELP, to support the hard-hit hospitality industry. Gov. John Carney announced the program on March 18, 2020, less than a week after declaring a State of Emergency. It was the nation’s first effort to help this sector as it was starting to feel the impact of the coronavirus. HELP has provided more than 350 restaurants, bars and other businesses with assistance to date.
The Delaware Division of Small Business ran both programs while also providing a direct resource for businesses working to follow rules put in place to protect public health and safety.
That includes offering one-on-one guidance through DSB’s team of regional business managers, distributing thousands of PPE kits statewide and developing the COVID-19 Customer Protection Standards.
That initiative gives businesses a way to quickly show customers worried about safety that the business is following State COVID-19 safety policies. More than 750 businesses are participants.
As companies stepped up for their customers, those customers returned the favor. They purchased clothes from Facebook Live broadcasts. They brought home tacos or pizza on a #TakeoutTuesday. They shopped local over the holiday season.
From businesses to consumers to government, everyone has had an essential role to play in buoying the state’s economy by uniting around the belief that, as Gov. Carney has often said, a healthy economy requires a healthy community.
With more than a quarter of Delawareans now fully vaccinated and that number growing, the community is getting healthier by the day. This is allowing businesses to shift their focus from surviving to thriving.
Salted Vines Vineyard & Winery in Frankford used a DE Relief Grant to enclose its patio with glass, roll-up doors. That tripled its available year-round seating and helped the winery make it through the winter. And the owners are now able to turn their attention to other kinds of growth — increasing production, adding new staff and planting additional acreage.
It all makes taking time to pause this month, Small Business Month 2021, to recognize the fortitude of Delaware’s many enterprising entrepreneurs, all the more important.
The Division of Small Business is here to support them and help their businesses go beyond simply bouncing back to instead leaping forward. Head to www.DelBiz.com to connect.
Jordan Schulties is director of the Delaware Division of Small Business.
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