Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
— Steve’s Marketplace —
Amid the swirling coronavirus uncertainty, small businesses can use a helping hand of support, not hard-fisted regulation.
“They’ve already suffered,” says Regina Duncan, the head of the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce.
Meanwhile, many local businesses, particularly in tourism-related industries, are “struggling,” according to Duncan. And it really hurts during the profitable summer season. Several recent rule changes have caused more frustration and slowed operations, especially for bars and restaurants.
However, like a cavalry, more financial assistance is on the way for Nassau businesses. And this money will be in the form of grants, not repayable loans. “We understand it’s not a silver bullet,” Duncan says about $2.2 million that small businesses in Nassau County will receive. “It’s just something else to help.”
The money is part of the CARES program. Some $1.2 billion in CARES funds were left over at the state level and never distributed to the 32 smaller counties in Florida. Nassau County will receive a total of $15 million to defray coronavirus costs, with $2.2 million of that for local small businesses.
The Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in convincing county officials to dole out the $2.2 million for needy businesses. It’s been three months of negotiations, but Chamber officials were “successful in convincing the county to use some of the CARES funding for businesses,” Duncan says.
The application process will begin in August, with disbursements in September. Local businesses suffering the most will be prime candidates for the proceeds. The money will be awarded “with fairness in mind,” Duncan says.
It will be a gulp of fresh air for local businesses. The past four months have been as difficult as dealing with a hurricane. However, the ever-evolving rules over shutdowns, occupancy, distancing, masks, etc. have been reasonably enforced around Nassau County/Fernandina Beach. According to business owners, local officials have been reasonable with enforcement. It should be this way. Businesses are vital members of the community.
This is not happening everywhere, however. In Neptune Beach, plain-clothed ATF agents regularly visit bars and restaurants, according to workers. The unannounced visits can lead to threatening fines/penalties and even action against licenses.
You hate to see this friction. Labeling a struggling business owner as a criminal is unnecessary, counterproductive. Business owners must follow the rules, but the rules should be applied evenly, equitably.
Restrictions across the U.S. have been loopy, if you could summarize them. You can’t sing in church in some places. In others, you can’t use a boat with a motor. And a privately owned shop cannot open, but the Target and Walmart store down the street can. No wonder business owners take liberties or stretch the rules.
Nevertheless, local businesses have tried to be creative and develop new income streams. “They’re still looking at different ways of doing business,” Duncan says.
With such innovation, and verve, the business climate here remains fertile – and in good hands. “I see all of that, so I am optimistic,” Duncan says. “I also see the enthusiasm of those of us who live here, and the support of all of our local businesses.”
EDITOR’s NOTE: A scheduled Nassau County Board of Commissioners meeting on July 27, 2020 at 5 p.m. will have a presentation by Government Services Group about the Nassau CARES Small Business Recovery Grant. Nassau County meetings can be watched online at the Nassau County Clerk’s website.
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor for a major brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns appear regularly in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, and on his website: www.SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has also published a book, “All About Money,” consisting of his favorite columns over the past 20 years. The book is available at local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].