Goleta Chamber seeks government partnership to ‘thrive without a roadmap or a timeline’
A stroll down State Street may never be the same.
Walking through Paseo Nuevo could change as we know it, while downtown areas in communities throughout Santa Barbara County are likely to be much different once storefronts reopen and business resumes.
Downtown Santa Barbara was already seeing vacant storefronts before the pandemic, while longtime retailers such as Nordstrom and Forever 21 have decided to close for good.
Things could get worse before they get better, though the business community is doing what it can in the meantime.
“Once we deal with the public health issues and find innovative ways to reopen in safe and small steps, there are economic development opportunities to redesign things to be a little more resilient in the future,” said Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta Chamber of Commerce. “I think our beloved downtowns in every community are job one because that is where we feel our community, that is where we feel connected, that is where we experience our connectedness, and a lot of work should be done to bring those back as the hearts of our communities.”
Ms. Miller said that local downtown corridors can be modernized to become more habitable environments, while also working toward an economic renewal rather than a recovery.
“We are smart, innovative, compassionate people, and we have learned more than ever that we thrive in our tribes. We need each other. We miss being together. So when recovery comes, we want to use our collaborative spirits to make necessary changes that allow the new normal to be better than it’s ever been,” she said.
During a recent webinar hosted by the UCSB Economic Forecast Protect, Ms. Miller discussed some of the challenges that current retail businesses and restaurants are facing, while also expressing desire for a government partnership to help get through the pandemic.
The Goleta Chamber, which recently merged with the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, will now represent more than 1,000 members and far more regional jobs than before.
While quickly realizing that restaurants would be at least one sector of business that would be affected by the pandemic, the Chamber turned into a full-time advocate for their local eateries.
In recent weeks, the Chamber proposed a grant and loan program that it pitched to the city of Goleta, though soon realized there wasn’t a mechanism in place to connect business and government so quickly. In addition, the Chamber proposed a task force similar to the one in place in the city of Santa Barbara, bringing together retailers, manufacturers, real estate employees with high-level government officials to address the economic crisis. Yet again, the Chamber faced a roadblock.
“Under these immensely trying circumstances and an ever evolving crisis, it proved very difficult to achieve,” Ms. Miller said.
The Chamber has still been holding weekly leadership business calls, gathering representatives from various sectors of the local economy to review their respective corners of the crisis. CEOs of various chambers in the county are now gathering weekly, rather than monthly, as they share best practices, emerging trends and new information.
“What we’ve learned through both of these groups is that businesses in our county are doing an amazing job of innovating during this time of crisis,” she said. “I’’m not minimizing the fact that many businesses are closed, healthcare workers are either overworked or can’t work at all, and that we customers are suffering too from home haircuts and new levels of loneliness.”
Ms. Miller also acknowledged that many business owners are “a bit lost” as they “thrive without a roadmap or a timeline.”
Speaking in support of the phased reopening plan, Ms. Miller said she wishes there was more done to plan for an economic disaster.
“No one could have predicted something of this magnitude, but I can’t help but think about the hours we have spent preparing for fires, floods and earthquakes,” she said. “ We’ve spent years doing disaster preparedness for business. We’ve prepared, practiced, raised money, run drills, and most importantly we made protocols and plans so that during a disaster we follow our plans and make quick decisions based on a set of guidelines, and not react and not make decisions out of panic or fear.
“I sincerely hope there is not a next time, but what would be helpful in the future is to have some established protocols to connect business and government. More than tightening and loosening regulations, we should be doing crisis management about the one thing that keeps us inexorably connected — the economy.”
While no plans have been finalized, the city of Goleta is mulling its options of holding a fireworks show on July 4 without public gatherings, she added.
Joanne Funari, executive vice president and COO of American Riviera Bank, provided some insight into the distribution of the Paycheck Protection Program funds, which were part of the federal stimulus packages recently awarded for small business relief.
She said some community banks have processed and approved more than two times as many loans in the last 30 days as they have in an entire year.
The local bank has funded some 577 PPP loans totaling approximately $115 million, including 433 loans totaling $73 million in Santa Barbara County. During the first round of PPP funding, which included $349 billion in relief, the majority of applications were less than $150,000. In the second round of funding, which included $310 billion, the loans applied for were less than $50,000, she said.
“You can see that the smaller businesses, they’re coming in, and they’re getting the PPP funded. In round two, SBA tracked the bank size and noted that banks under $10 billion in assets participated in round two quite a bit, and this is the category where the community banks fall into,” she said. “From our standpoint at American Riviera, we processed as many loans in the first round as we did in the second round.”
While businesses have been able to receive funding, Ms. Funari said that her office has been in contact with U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, regarding a third stimulus package.
Under the current format, banks are required to fund the PPP loans within 10 days of it being approved by the Small Business Administration. The businesses then have eight weeks to use the funds.
“A lot of these businesses will not be open or may not be open until late summer,” she said. “So they’re spending this money now on employees, but what happens after that?
“Most businesses cannot last four to five months without revenue, with zero revenue stream, so that’s the struggle.”
Rep. Carbajal has also co-sponsored a bill for a PPP extension, which would extend the duration of the PPP through 30 days after the end of the COVID-19 national emergency declaration.
“These are things that aren’t out there yet, but these are things that are being negotiated right now. The extension would also allow SBA to grant extensions to existing PPP loans without an additional application by the business,” Ms. Funari said. “We’re trying to get them to understand that once the eight-week period is over, once they’ve spent that money, they’ve spent the money.”
Banks have also faced challenges regarding loan forgiveness.
“Really, the only thing that we have at this point that’s somewhat substantial is the interim final rule that was issued right before the outset,” she said. “We are still awaiting final defined guidance around that.”