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Prescott virtual town hall urges businesses to take advantage of federal financial-assistance programs
Staying afloat in the era of COVID-19

Prescott Mayor Greg Mengarelli hosts an online town hall meeting for small business owners Friday afternoon, April 3, 2020. (Screen shot)

Prescott Mayor Greg Mengarelli hosts an online town hall meeting for small business owners Friday afternoon, April 3, 2020. (Screen shot)

Local business people who tuned in to a City of Prescott virtual town hall heard the message loud and clear this week: They are not in the COVID-19 pandemic alone.

Everyone from Prescott Mayor Greg Mengarelli and City Manager Michael Lamar to U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar and Sen. Martha McSally emphasized that a host of financial-assistance programs are out there for the asking.

The goal of the various federal programs is to help businesses stay afloat despite having to shut down or drastically cut services because of the ongoing threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Friday, April 3, virtual town hall – an official meeting of the Prescott City Council – attracted participation by upwards of 200 local business people, officials, and residents.

Conducted through the Zoom Video Conferencing service, the meeting required participants to log in and participate via the internet. At the beginning, about 140 were tuned in, and that later grew to more than 200.

Mengarelli led off the meeting by telling the participants, “I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re out there alone in this. We’re all in this together.”

The city had virtually assembled a roster of experts to offer information and to answer questions at the end of the meeting.

The speakers included Gosar and McSally along with representatives from their offices, as well as representatives from: the Yavapai College Small Business Development Center; the Northern Arizona Council of Governments; the Prescott Chamber of Commerce; and Schutte & Hilgendorf CPAs.

For weeks now, the city has been posting information about the COVID-19 crisis on its website at: http://www.prescott-az.gov/city-management/communications/covid-19/.

All of the information from Friday’s meeting is available on the webpage, as of late Friday. The individual documents include detailed instructions on applying for Disaster Loan Assistance, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and Paycheck Protection Program.

Most of the speakers emphasized that business people should get started on the application processes for the various program as soon as possible.

For instance, several speakers advised business owners to look into the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, which Gosar said has $350 billion available to help small businesses.

“The program provides forgivable loans up to $10 million to small businesses left financially distressed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” states a news release from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The loans will be administered at the local level by a national network of banks and credit unions.

“I want to make sure everyone knows that’s available,” Gosar said of the program.

Mengarelli said businesses can fill out a two-page application and take it to their bank (some of which are participating in the program), which will then submit to the federal government. (The application is among the documents posted on the city’s website.)

“We want Prescott to have the most per-capita participation in this program,” Mengarelli said, adding that businesses should try to get the applications in over the next week or two.

Jeri Denniston, director of the Yavapai College Small Business Development Center, said the Paycheck Protection Program “is intended to allow you to keep your employees on the payroll” despite the impact from the virus.

McSally added that although many employees have already been laid off, “We’re asking you to hire them back on, pay them, even if they don’t have anything to do.” The program is intended to allow businesses to “hold it together as much as you can,” she said.

A number of other federal assistance programs are available as well, and the experts noted that business people should seek advice on which of the programs can best help them.

“Get with your CPA or tax accountant to evaluate which of the programs is better for you,” Denniston said.

She added that businesses should think long-term about what their needs will be as they gear back up after the virus threat.

“Don’t just think about six months,” she said. “Think about nine months or a year. This is going to be an extensive situation.”

Teri Drew, regional director of the Northern Arizona Council of Governments, also urged businesses to look ahead. “Let’s focus on recovery,” she said. “Recovery means labor.”

Although people sometimes tend to move to more urban centers during economic downturns, Drew said, “We want folks to stay in our community.”

The discussion generated about 20 unique questions from the audience. Questions touched on such detailed matters as help for the self-employed, help for non-profit organizations, the taxability of the federal assistance, and where businesses can get needed hand sanitizer and face masks.

The entire town hall discussion is available on the city’s website at: http://www.prescott-az.gov/city-management/communications/covid-19/.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.

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