Kiesa Kay
Special to The Gardner News
U.S. jobless claims soared to three million last week, and the number of COVID-19 cases in America surpassed all other countries. Jason Camis, president and CEO of the Gardner Chamber of Commerce, has been working remotely with his staff to help local businesses keep healthy through these difficult times.
“We’ve been calling each one of our member businesses to figure out what we can do to help and what resources they’re needing,” Camis said. “Businesses have to be a lot more creative to keep going, and some of them have to reduce their hours or close for 30 days, particularly the ones that rely on people interacting together.”
The chamber will offer a virtual networking event for businesses on April 6, open to the entire business community. Camis and his staff are working on virtual networking, virtual riboon cutting, and developing online platforms. The chamber has listed resources at https://gardneredgerton.org/gardner-united/. Businesses also have found ways of going online, with Zoom meetings, Google Hangouts and Facebook live, he said.
“Part of the challenge from our end is finding all the tools that people use to work at home,” Camis said. “They’ve sold out. You can order a webcam online, but delivery will take more time. Tools people use to work at home have become harder to come by.”
Some businesses have noted business as usual, or perhaps a bit slower than normal. Some businesses have had to find completely new ways to keep going, Camis said. For example, with stay-at-home restrictions in place, caterers can’t do events, so local caters have found a way to create a frozen meal option that individuals can take home. Restaurants have closed or gone to carry out and curbside service.
“We encourage businesses to modify operations so they can keep staff employed,” Camis said.
In January, the Gardner Edgerton area had a 2.7 percent unemployment rate, but the number could soar with the layoffs in February and March. Kansas jobless benefits have been extended ten weeks, for a total of 26 weeks, in response to the coronavirus concerns. Some businesses, however, are hiring, including Amazon, Walmart, FedEx, UPS, and Price Chopper, Camis said.
The federal stimulus package will help individuals affected by the layoffs, and Camis estimated that 95 percent of Gardner and Edgerton residents will qualify for the $1,200 payout offered in the stimulus package.
“Spending in general will differ now,” Camis said. “For example, my family likes to travel, and most of our discretionary spending goes for that – but now we can’t travel. We like to eat out, and we’re spending less on that. This year, we’ll do more work outside. We’ve tilled, and we plan to do some planting.”
The Small Business Administration offers some resources at https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources.
The 2020 Legislature created a $50 million fund in response to COVID-19. Kansas has created a $5 million hospitality industry relief fund, or HIRE, which will offer loans to hospitality businesses with fewer than 100 employees. The loans can be up to $20,000 at zero percent interest for three years. Of that $5 million, $2 million will be earmarked for Johnson, Wyandotte, Shawnee and Douglas counties.
Representative Sharice Davids offers resources and information on her web page, at https://davids.house.gov/coronavirus.
Camis and his crew will continue to look for every possible way to help local businesses, he says.
“The situation changes weekly, and it’s very fluid,” Camis said. “We will continue to promote businesses and find resources to help through these times.”