Mary Thompson, executive director of the Heartland Lakes Development Commission (HLDC), wants to be a resource to help small businesses in the county weather the COVID-19 storm.

Thompson said she will engage with all local lenders to see what kinds of issues they’re seeing and try to find resources small businesses can access to bridge the gap while waiting for additional help.

“Over the next few days I’ll be working very hard to try and find those resources,” she said. “While there’s this mandatory closure, I think there’s also going to be fallout for a longer period of time because, based on what I’ve heard from people employed in various districts in our area, they are preparing for distance learning because schools are not likely to reopen for the remainder of the school year,” she said.

Deferred taxes, other resources

While workers are eligible for unemployment, most business owners are not. “There are some limited unemployment options for sole business owners or self-employed, but not much,” Thompson said.

Sales and use tax payments for businesses have been deferred for 30 days. Payments due March 20 have been extended to April 20. “They still have to file, but they don’t have to pay the taxes,” Thompson said. “That provides a little bit of extra cash flow. There are also some resources coming down for being able to claim a tax credit for employers who are required to pay leave.”

The federal mandate to provide two weeks of paid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act is for businesses with 50-500 employees.

Thompson said the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are working on assistance programs as well.

“There will be more funding available if Minnesota is declared a disaster area,” she said.

“DEED is petitioning to get Minnesota added so small businesses will have eligibility.”

She said while workers have resources available, there isn’t much right now for owners and that is the first priority she will be addressing.

Another issue she is working on is help with childcare for small business owners and employees once they open, if schools remain closed.

“There are some challenges that we’re going to have with some of these small employers,” she said. “Our HLDC is meeting Monday to discuss these issues. I’m also going to be working fairly quickly to get a group of volunteers in place as we’re reopening and engaging that can help businesses with applications with the SBA, loan applications or shoring up their financials. I’m working on getting some consultants, myself included, to be able to really help the small businesses here in Hubbard County. My goal is within the next week here to be that one-stop shop. If a business owner has questions or concerns, they can give me a call and we’ll work through it. They can start reaching out immediately. I’m ready to help. I don’t have a lot of answers right now, because it is such a moving target, but I’m working diligently to get answers as quickly as I can.”

Thompson said her best guess, after this period of social distancing and isolation, is that once cases of COVID-19 drop to a certain level, things will start opening. “Initially, we’ll be working with businesses by email and telephone, but face to face will come back,” she said.

Thompson said a stimulus package was introduced for the tourism, hospitality and travel industries that could help local businesses as well.

“We’re finding as many resources as we can, realizing it’s just going to be tough,” she said.

“I’m also working a lot with Butch (De La Hunt) at the Chamber to be a unified force on what we’re putting out. Our website isn’t up and running, so I’m feeding information to Butch so he can put it on his. They’re doing a scrolling (news ticker) on their front page and posting updates there.”

Thompson may be reached by email at mthompson@hrdc.org or by calling or texting 368-7980.

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