“Our fear is that some small businesses will fall through the cracks and won’t receive the needed aid in time or at all,” said Doug Burton, president of the Utah Independent Business Coalition. “If they have to wait too long for help, many of these small family enterprises simply won’t survive.”
Burton said that nearly 100 people participated in a recent coalition-organized online teleconference as they sought answers on how to save their businesses, many of them fearful and frustrated.
“A lot of them are telling us if they have to wait and remain shut down for another two or three weeks ... they just won’t be around anymore,” he told The Tribune. “They will go out of business."
Nick Gradinger, co-founder and proprietor of Vessel Kitchen restaurants in Park City, Midvale and Sandy, said the chain of eateries had to assign a full-time financial expert to pursue the SBA aid application process.
“And it was incredibly difficult,” Gradinger told The Tribune on Monday. “Seeing the amount of time and energy we’ve had to allocate to that, my heart goes out to anyone who felt overwhelmed by that process.”
Congress is already debating a second round of aid targeting business. But Burton said the federal loan programs already available have large backlogs of applicants— and many owners can’t wait long enough for those to be resolved without some kind of cash coming in.
“Many locally owned neighborhood businesses simply don’t have the cash reserves to weather a monthlong shutdown,” Burton said.
The coalition’s open letter calls on state legislators to offer new grants for businesses, defer sales tax obligations and open other streams of financial assistance, possibly by tapping some of the state’s rainy day accounts.
Many of these businesses have loans and can’t take on more debt now, Burton said in an interview, so they are looking for “nonloan remedies” to help them temporarily cover ongoing monthly expenses such as rent, utilities, wages and insurance costs.
Time, business owners say, is of the essence. In their letter, they are pleading for “the state of Utah to do as much as possible, as quickly as possible to help save these beloved local businesses.”
Their list of priorities going into the session, according to the 13-page document, includes a possibility of new emergency loans or grants to bolster the state’s economy and deferring certain tax payments, including the option of delaying payment of the state’s tax on hotel and motel stays to help businesses in that sector meet rent and payroll obligations.
Wilson, the House speaker, has said the upcoming session — to be conducted electronically — will also probably spend between $50 and $100 million of nearly $700 million that Utah expects to receive from the U.S. government’s stimulus package aimed at easing effects of the pandemic.
Much of the rest, Wilson said, is likely to be kept in reserve for spending as Utah’s economy begins to stabilize from the current urgent phase of the pandemic.
The Utah Independent Business Coalition represents small stores, cafes, manufacturing and professional services firms and a host of other smaller independent firms “at the very heart of our community,” the letter says.
Small businesses make up about 90% of all employers in Utah — and represent just under half the state’s total workforce.
State officials, meanwhile, announced on Monday that nearly $4.89 million will be awarded to businesses and nonprofits applying this week for a series of bridge loans offered through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Those loans — being made in sums of between $5,000 and $20,000, with 0% interest for five years and initial payments deferrable for the first 12 months — are available to both small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 employees, according to GOED.