Over the last several weeks, the Small Business Administration has led the charge issuing hundreds-of-billions in loans for small businesses across the region.
Steve Bulger, who serves as regional director and oversees New York and other states, said the effort has been a success, despite some early challenges.
"Normally, the SBA does about $30 billion in lending a year," he explained last week. "We have now done nearly $600 billion in a little more than six weeks. So the scale is just off the charts. And it's involved. It's certainly not just the SBA, but our lenders are banks or credit unions."
He said altogether 4.3 million companies across the country received funding through the Paycheck Protection Program, which was leveraged by dozens of businesses in Seneca County. That program, which was funded through the CARES Act, provided working capital to allow businesses to keep staff employed through the challenging weeks of economic shutdown.
Now, economies across the region are moving through the reopening process – albeit cautiously – and businesses are hopeful that they will be able to begin welcoming back employees and customers.
"The most important thing we're trying to do is raise awareness that there's still plenty of money left," Bulger added. He said there's more than $100 billion remaining as May 19. Another focus area has been reminding nonprofits that they are also eligible for funds through the PPP. "Get with a lender go to sba.gov. We have a list of hundreds and hundreds of lenders across New York state that can help you apply for this loan," he continued. "It should go pretty quickly, and we want the money to go out."
He said even the SBA has received countless questions related to reopening. And while Bulger noted that it is a local decision, he hopes the agency will be able to help with providing various types of blueprints for small businesses to leverage as a resource.
Bulger said the second major part of the program, which is the most important to many small business owners, is the forgiveness. He said that has some complications that still need to be worked out, but that the SBA is remaining available to guide those small businesses through. He also hinted at the possibility that there would be more guidance on forgiveness coming from Congress. At this point that has not happened, but between the SBA, lenders, and individual small businesses, Bulger is certain that things will settle out.
Much of that settling out involves customers coming back, though. After all, if small businesses reopen and there are not any customers, sustainability will again be an issue. Bulger said he sees this playing out relatively quickly. He believes there is pent up demand in the market. "Once some confidence returns – that's the key you know – people need confidence that when they open their business they're going to have customers again," he said. "Businesses and customers all need that confidence, and eventually we'll get going again."
For counties like Seneca, the biggest impact has been on agriculture and education through limited broadband access. Bulger said these two things will need real attention after the pandemic is over. Specifically, the broadband issue is one that the pandemic has showed needs addressing sooner than later.
"I think it's going to have to be a top priority," he continued. "There's money that comes out every year and the elected officials give it a high priority, which is good, but it really hasn't improved."
He hopes that not only New York, but also the entire U.S. puts greater focus on broadband access in all places. "Look, this might take half a trillion dollars to do or more, but working with the private sector partners because they have to get it done. We have to finally get that done just like we electrified the whole country back in the 1920s and 30s and 40s," Bulger concluded.
That is a long-term effort, though, and in many ways, a fight for another day. Right now, Bulger said the big focus is getting those loans forgiven. It will begin in June, and likely last through July. "We want to help guide companies if they have questions about getting their PPP loan forgiven."