COVID-19 has presented Montgomery and the River Region with multiple challenges, but one thing is certain: We will recover, and we’ll recover together.
Montgomery began the year 2020 with tremendous momentum. In 2019, the city’s announced capital investment by new and existing industries and its tourism expenditures had both topped $1 billion, marking tremendous milestones for the region. The more than $1 billion in announced capital investment ranked Montgomery County second among all other Alabama counties, and these investments alone far exceeded the efforts of the seven-county region surrounding Birmingham. Montgomery’s $1 billion in tourism expenditures set a record for the region and represented a 6 percent increase year-over-year from 2018 to 2019. As a city on the rise, Montgomery’s main objective going into 2020 was to accelerate growth and to take its record-breaking achievements from 2019 to the next level. All indications pointed to a strong first quarter.
When news started to spread about a novel coronavirus, it was not just Montgomery’s healthcare community that began to pay close attention.
Montgomery’s major industrial and hospitality partners, our corporate and military communities and the hundreds of small businesses that are all key players in our economy began to brace for the challenges ahead. In March, April and May, Montgomery’s economy faced tremendous challenges, as did the national and global economies. Our business community was forced to innovate. Manufactures shifted operations to meet new demands and stepped up to keep employees safe. The hospitality industry also shifted focus, with many restaurants enacting alternate means of serving customers with dining rooms closed, and hoteliers working to adjust to an extremely altered landscape.
Montgomery’s small business community faced particularly difficult challenges as it worked to comply with public health orders, to understand the complex landscape of advisories and mandates, and to try to maintain access to revenues in the face of drastically decreased consumer activity. What began as a public health crisis quickly turned into a complex economic challenge, leaving small businesses scrambling to navigate the intricacies of emergency relief efforts while being forced to make the difficult decisions necessary to continue operations, which in some cases resulted in suspending operations.
Due to the pandemic and the myriad problems it presented, by mid-May, consumer spending had decreased by 32.7 percent in Montgomery compared to 20.5 percent nationally. As of May 16, the number of hourly employees in small businesses had decreased by 40.5 percent in Montgomery County compared to early January 2020, and the number of small businesses open for operations decreased by 27.6 percent compared to early January 2020.* As this health emergency continued to cause challenges in our small business community, the need to respond with care and compassion to these businesses became evident and urgent.
The Chamber’s No. 1 priority became aggregating resources and communicating important updates, best practices and information on access to relief for the entire business community. In early April, Mayor Steven L. Reed created the Economic Impact Task Force to identify the economic impact of COVID-19 on Montgomery businesses, workers and families and then facilitate measures to address it. The Chamber joined this effort and began working collaboratively on several initiatives to provide resources and emergency assistance to local businesses.
In April, the Chamber worked with the City of Montgomery, Montgomery County and the Small Business Development Center at Alabama State University to create the Recover Together Small Business Hub, a free, one-stop clearinghouse that connects small and minority businesses to the resources and information they need most as they emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. The response was overwhelming, and by mid-May, it had become abundantly clear that capital and access to funding were one of the biggest concerns and hurdles for our small and minority business community in the virus’ wake.
As we began to look toward a recovery period, a coalition of local partners launched the Recover Together Small Business Fund to provide grants to as many small employers as possible. The relief fund is administered through the Chamber’s 501(c)3 charitable foundation, which contributed the initial seed funding, and has been further supported through the generosity of our corporate and philanthropic partners, individual contributors and local government support.
Applications for the small business relief fund opened on June 1, and to date more than 650 applications have been received and more than $240,000 have been awarded to 75 local businesses, demonstrating the tremendous need.
Despite the many challenges, there is hope on the horizon. In fact, in the midst of these trying times, the Chamber still experienced heavy project activity, and our CVB sales team continues to line up events and conferences late in 2020, into 2021 and beyond. The initiatives highlighted here are just the beginning. As the Chamber, our business community and our many partners look ahead, we will continue to work to bring the resources to our community where they are needed most.
As of May 16, the number of small businesses open for operations decreased by 27.6% compared to early January 2020. (*Source: tracktherecovery.org)
In April, the Chamber worked with the City of Montgomery, Montgomery County and the Small Business Development Center at Alabama State University to create the Recover Together Small Business Hub, a free, one-stop clearinghouse that connects small and minority businesses to the resources and information they need most as they emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
Applications for the small business relief fund opened on June 1, and to date the fund has awarded $240,000+ to 75 local businesses.
Small Business Support Take advantage of the Chamber’s network of support and counseling as you re-open, recover and revive your business.
Are you a small business in need? Do you have questions regarding loan assistance, legal assistance, HR issues or tax concerns? Do you need assistance reopening your business? You can call the Recover Together Small Business Hub, 334-226-7529, or fill out the HUB form on montgomerychamber.com/hub, and one of our Hub Specialists will contact you as soon as possible to share information about available resources and connect you with relief.