BALTIMORE COUNTY— There have been many local, state and executive orders this year related to the Coronavirus, causing business owners to alter their operations and experience significant loss in revenue.
In an effort to help business owners navigate through these uncharted territories, Baltimore County held their seventh COVID-19 webinar, “Deciphering Current Executive Orders: How Does this Apply to My Business?”, where county officials and a Baltimore County business owner provided insight on how to observe executive orders and provided an overview on loan and reimbursement opportunities businesses may be eligible for.
Olszewski kicked off the webinar by explaining executive orders from the state often allow local jurisdictions to decide if they want to implement stricter COVID-19 orders. Baltimore County, according to Olszewski, aims to follow original state executive orders instead of implementing different orders .
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic Baltimore County has really strived to align with the state whenever possible and we continue to advocate any action being done at the state level because we know a patchwork solution is not ideal,” Olszewski said.
“Patchworks create confusion, they put businesses just miles apart on different playing fields and they are fundamentally less effective on a public health perspective.”
James Benjamin, Attorney for Baltimore County, said the county has released an executive order , order 20-23, that is more restrictive than the most recent state executive order when it comes to social gatherings.
Benjamin reiterated the latest executive order which prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 10 and outdoor gatherings or more than 25 people. Social gatherings do not include gatherings that would be at retail establishments, religious facilities, personal service establishments, food service establishments, fitness centers, gaming facilities, racing facilities, indoor theaters, and outdoor entertainment venues.
Stanley Jacobs, member of Baltimore County’s Economic and Workforce Development Team, said the biggest challenge for business owners isn’t following these executive orders, but securing enough capital while abiding by the restrictions set forth by the county.
“What we try to do is match businesses with the appropriate program to make sure they can maintain the capital they are looking for,” Jacobs said.
“There are federal, state and county programs. Most of the federal programs, like the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan guarantee programs are administered through the local banks. These loans can be as much as $5 million.”
Jacobs said there are also some state programs that have direct loans that can be as much as $5 million for small businesses, which are businesses that have 500 employees or less, and that there are very specific state agencies that can help borrowers that have credit issues.
“COVID has impacted many people’s personal credit scores so if you are going to a bank and you are looking for a loan and your credit score is under 650 a bank is just going to walk away and say we can’t help you.”
However, Jacobs said there is one entity called the Latino Economic Development Center that can provide loans to individuals with really weak credit.
Jacobs explained that people do not have to be Latino to receive assistance from the Latino Economic Development Center and that the center starts people out with a small loan to build their credit back so they can one day, hopefully, get back into the banking world.
The Baltimore County Economic and Workforce Development site also has links to different loan programs people can apply to—like a direct loan program where people can apply to get up to a $25,0000 loan for real estate acquisition leasehold improvements.
Jacobs said it’s hard for startups to obtain financing from banks and said the county has helped startups for well established individuals who have great management or business experience but advised people who don’t have a lot of experience to reach out to friends and family for money as an equity investment.
Melony Wagner, owner of Charles Village Pub in Towson was able to supplement the advice the other panelists provided by sharing her own process of working with the county’s economic and workforce development team to receive financial assistance.
Wagner said she applied for and received two grants; one from the Small Business Reimbursement Grant, which was $10,000, and the other from the Small Business Restaurant Reimbursement Grant, which was $15,000.
Wagner said these grants will go towards reimbursing expenses the restaurant already incurred and towards purchasing PPE for staff and customers.
“It would surprise people the amount of money spent on gloves, sanitizer, masks, all the extra cleaning products—it’s an enormous amount of money.”
Wagner said the restaurant has shifted to more family dinner style initiatives where people can pick up set meals for a certain number of people to not only cater to people who don’t want to dine in but to help the restaurant save money.
Despite adjusting her business to better serve customers while following the executive order, Wagner said the restaurant is experiencing a financial loss every day.
“In Towson, most of us are dying a slow death. All our county buildings and corporate buildings are closed and I used to do a lot of work with Stanley Black and Decker. I do think it is location dependent. I have friends further out in the county who are doing better. They are doing more business this year than they ever have before,” Wagner said.
As far as advice for other business owners, Wagner said she encourages people to email the Baltimore County Economic and Workforce Development Team with any questions when it comes to finding ways to receive financial assistance.
“I know a lot of people don’t like [ sending emails] because they feel like they aren’t going to get an answer but I have found the response time incredibly fast. A lot of the times, in 15 minutes my question is answered,” Wagner said.
“I encourage everyone to apply for everything because all they can say is no. It’s a little bit of paperwork but it’s not bad.There were two things I missed out on because I didn’t apply for [ the loan] in the first week. What I learned from that is to apply for everything early, as soon as possible.”
Wagner finished by addressing other restaurant owners, saying she would like to get in contact with others who may be in similar situations as her.
“If anyone wants to get a group of restaurant owners together, I would be more than happy to do something like that because I think we have a unique situation,” Wager said.
“Closing down is not a good option...closing and starting up again would be really hard and I think Baltimore County would benefit specifically hearing from restaurant owners.”
The Baltimore County Economic and Workforce Development team can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 410-887-8000. More information about the resources available for businesses can be found on the departments website at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/departments/economicdev/business/index.