MONTPELIER — Small Vermont businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can now get free advice through a $2.5 million state program.
Funded by the federal CARES Act, the Small Business Recovery Technical Assistance Program was announced by Gov. Phil Scott on Friday. It’s being run through the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. According to the agency, it will connect small business owners with one of five consulting teams across the state depending on what sector they’re in.
One team is the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, working with On the Fly, the latter a group of people in the food, drink and hospitality industry who began offering free business consulting back in March when measures to control the pandemic first went into place.
“It’s a group of us that came together, kind of a grassroots collective in March when we started to see the restaurant hospitality space getting in trouble because of COVID,” said Sas Stewart, founding member of On the Fly, on Monday. “We know a lot about food, drink and hospitality, let’s just offer to do work for these businesses for free.”
She said hospitality businesses were hit especially hard by the pandemic, leaving many owners to not only wonder how to apply for and properly use aid programs, but how they would adapt and survive in the long term. Stewart said everything from the Payroll Protection Program to Small Business Administration loans to safety regulations can challenge a business owner, often all at once.
“The list keeps growing and what we want to do is take something off that list,” she said. “So we’ll walk a project from beginning to end and just get it done for you.”
What On the Fly offers is a fast-tracked version of what a business consultant would normally provide.
She said work that would typically be done over the course of three months is being tackled over a few weeks. Still, businesses On the Fly helps get a two-hour consultation up front in which the owner talks about their challenges, goals, and concerns and the expert they’ve been paired with helps them develop a plan.
On the Fly was doing this on its own, she said, while partnering with the Vermont Chamber for advice, some marketing and having it act as a financial agent. Stewart said being involved with the ACCD program lets them take their efforts further.
“This lets us turn the volume up on what we’ve been doing since March,” she said. “It allows us to pay our experts for their time, which means they can prioritize doing this kind of work.”
Other teams include the state’s 12 Regional Development Corporations, Champlain College, the Northern Community Investment Corporation and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs fund.
“Vermonters built their businesses in a pre-COVID-19 environment. This program will help them adapt to the ongoing crisis by offering tools to put more of their business online, implement novel and innovative ways to do in-person business, and develop processes to increase profits,” stated Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of ACCD, in a release on Friday.
“Ultimately, we hope this will result in stronger businesses coming out of the pandemic, putting more Vermonters back to work, and strengthening our economy to withstand these types of pressures moving forward.”