Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
Macon County’s Economic Development Team has been hard at work the last few months to help local businesses impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. From being a resource hub for business assistance opportunities to serving as an information center for timely updates, the Economic Development Commission’s role in the county quickly shifted from growing the local economy to helping small businesses continue operating in an uncertain economic climate.
In an effort to reach as many business owners as possible, Macon County EDC led the charge in developing the website, “Reopen Macon,” which went live this week.
“COVID-19 has brought dramatic changes to our community in a very short time,” said Macon County Economic Development Director Tommy Jenkins. “With that in mind, the Macon County EDC, Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce, Highlands Chamber of Commerce and local governments worked together to provide a one-stop online resource portal for Macon County businesses.” The site includes state and local information, reopening guidelines, best practices, financial assistance options and additional resources of help to the local business community.”
Jenkins said that so many business owners have a variety of questions and concerns and the process to get people back to work varies from business to business. To be more efficient, the Reopen Macon website will ideally serve as a way to answer those questions and encourage residents to get out and shop local.
“ As reopening is phased in, the most important thing any of us can do is shop local,” said Jenkins. “Patronize your local retailer, restaurant, service provider…..any of our local businesses. Remember, these folks are our neighbors. They work long hours, pay taxes and provide jobs for our community. They are the backbone of our economy and they will need everyone’s support in the coming months. Businesses will also need to utilize all available resources that will enable them to return to profitability and growth. That is a primary objective of the Reopening Macon site; to provide the tools for businesses to get back on track economically.
The website is one of many measures the county’s economic development team is serving the business community. Jenkins said additional resources will soon be rolled out.
“Macon County EDC will also be partnering with GIS Planning to release ZoomBusiness, a free interactive online directory where local businesses can add their hours of operation, list services and details of their businesses to share with the local community and beyond,” said Jenkins. “We hope to roll that out in the coming days.”
For financial assistance, Jenkins, along with Macon County Commission Vice-Chair Ronnie Beale proposed developing a COVID relief fund for small businesses operating in Macon County. Beale and Jenkins asked commissioners to consider a loan program similar to the one implemented in neighboring Jackson County, which launched their program last week.
With nearly $1 million in the county’s economic development fund, Beale proposed setting aside $250,000 to establish a loan program for businesses who have operated in Macon County for the last 12 months and employ between 1 and 50 people.
“The intention of a loan program like this is to help those small businesses who fell between the cracks and were unable to get help from the state or federal programs,” explained Jenkins. “We would look at partnering with an organization like Mountain BizWorks or the Sequoyah Fund to disburse the funds, we would just be providing the funding.”
Beale explained that for many small businesses, a small loan ranging from $2,500 or $5,000 can help to meet payroll or cover operating expenses temporarily during the uncertain financial times.
“Most banks won’t make loans in such small amounts, so there aren’t any other options for these businesses,” said Beale. “If there has ever been a time that this board could make a difference, it’s now.”
Commissioners intend to consider an official proposal on establishing a fund at their next board meeting.