ALBANY — It’s no secret that small business was disproportionately affected by COVID-19 restrictions. While big business can afford the means to transfer its staff to remote workstations and bear the brunt of skyrocketing PPE costs, small businesses in the Capital District are in the precarious position of being a huge part of the area’s economic lifeblood while not having as many resources and not enough cash flow to accommodate.
The New York Small Business Development Center, located on the State University of New York at Albany’s campus, is an expert in small business dealings. The organization has always provided tools for small business owners, however Katherine Baker, interim director of the NYSBDC, said the group’s goals have shifted with the same end goal in mind.
“What we’ve seen with small businesses and [paycheck protection plan] funds is them using the money to retain staffing and make sure employees keep their benefits during such a scary time,” Baker said. “Because the PPP money is helping businesses cover staff costs and benefits, it frees up cash flow a bit for them to get innovative and in many cases, invent some really ingenious ways to stay open.”
Baker said the ideas range from expanding goods/merchandise lines, enhancing services offered and diving into new territory all together. While COVID-19 has taken its fair share of small business, Baker said the NYSBDC met with 700 new clients last year, a feat she calls “remarkable” compared to non-pandemic years.
“Some of these businesses have been able to achieve some of their highest successes yet during the pandemic,” she continued. “We’re seeing a lot of food-based businesses move their products to retail and market and finding success there because the business is able to sell its product on a national scale.”
The national scale is important for any business; Baker said most small businesses are only about to reach within five miles of their location. When a restaurant jars its sauce for Hannaford shelves, a soap company employs a local distribution company to ship its products nationwide or a grocer is able to accommodate the needs of haggard residents by incorporating curbside services to its regular offerings, the business stands a better chance of making an indelible mark on the community.
Baker breaks down the current pandemic into three phases: crisis, recovery and resiliency. We are about a year into crisis mode, she said, and will probably be in this situation for a while longer. NYSBDC’s goal is to keep moving the wheels toward recovery and using these methods to give businesses the resiliency they have from their innovative tactics.
“I do think in many cases, we are starting to see some speckles of recovery flowing into the economy, especially with people feeling their extra free time is a great time to start a business they are passionate about,” Baker concluded. “I had a client tell me the other day we’ve pushed e-commerce forward about five years in just a few months from the pandemic and they’re right. This time will only serve businesses well if they’ve been able to capitalize on unique, innovative ways to keep the doors open and their customers coming back.”