Energy Capital Economic Development has started hosting weekly meetings on Zoom to help businesses deal with the economic impacts of the coronavirus.

The first one was held Friday morning and dealt with coping and planning for recovery.

With places around town shutting down, Sign Boss was getting business directly from the effects of the coronavirus. It made signs for the hospital to direct people to its mobile testing site, signs for the school district to let kids and families know where they could pick up their meals and signs for restaurants letting people know they were doing delivery.

But last week, Dana Miller Eiland, CEO of Sign Boss, decided to send her employees home.

She said it’s “a really hard struggle for small businesses” right now, because they want to stay afloat and pay employees, but it can be difficult to make that work when they’re required to stay home.

Olin Oedekoven, CEO of Peregrine Leadership Institute, said when businesses send people home, it’s important to check in on them, not just to see how they’re doing as an employee, but how they’re doing as a person.

“I think the term ‘social distancing’ is a bad choice of words,” he said. “(It should be) physical distancing. We want to stay socially engaged.”

There are many programs and softwares available, often inexpensive or even free, to make sure employers can have that social engagement with their employees.

“There’s a lot of ways we can connect and see each other,” Oedekoven said. “People need to feel connected.”

The United States Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses. Susan Jerke, the regional director of the Wyoming Small Business Development Center, said the application form has been changed several times in the last week, and it can be complicated.

The loan, which can be up to $2 million, has a 3.5% interest rate for profit, and 2.5% for nonprofits, and businesses don’t have to make payments on it for a year.

For more information on the loan, visit disasterloan.sba.gov/apply-for-disaster-loan/index.html. For help with the application, call Jerke at 682-5232 or email her at sjerke@uwyo.edu.

Jerke said she’s “been flooded with requests” recently. She understands that it’s a frustrating situation, and she asks people to be patient.

Jessica Seders, executive director of Gillette Main Street and the Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the members of the community are doing what they can to support small businesses, and she expects that to continue when the coronavirus is gone.

“We keep encouraging businesses to think beyond what we’re going through right now,” she said. “When this clears, (the community) will be ready, they’ll be out in force.”

The weekly business impact conference calls will be at 10 a.m. Friday. For more information, or to suggest a topic, call Curtis Burdette, vice president of operations at Economic Development, at 307-685-6902 or email him at Curtis@EnergyCapitalED.com.

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