Fresno Pacific University hosts a business event Friday in Downtown Fresno. Photo by David Castellon

published on March 13, 2020 - 1:27 PM
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Overseas and across the US, people are taking precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19. Italy has shut down all commercial activity except food stores and pharmacies, the SXSW annual music festival in Texas has been cancelled, and even locally, Fresno saw its annual FresYes festival postponed until the fall.

While national companies including Starbucks, Hilton, Best Western Hotels and Resorts and others are sending out mass emails to their customers to inform them of safety precautions for customers, local businesses and business organizations are doing the same.

Leaving one in the chamber

The Fresno Chamber of Commerce has been in contact with the Fresno County Department of Public Health (FCDPH) and is aware of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recommendation to cancel community events larger than 250 people.

The FCDPH is not currently recommending cancellation of smaller community events.

“The Chamber will continue to utilize our website and social media channels to distribute official information and recommendations from local, state, and federal health authorities as appropriate as well as act as a resource to share information on how business and employees can react to the virus and its effects,” said President and CEO of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce Nathan Ahle.

The Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce (FMBCC) has increased its measures of precaution against the virus.

The FMBCC has moved all of its educational classes and cohorts “to their online equivalents,” and has cancelled all staff business travel. The chamber also recommends its team avoid non-urgent personal travel as well, requiring any employees that board an aircraft to work from home for a 14-day precautionary period before returning to the office.

“We anticipate no impact to our core services and believe in our ability to keep things running with no interruption,” said Tara Lynn Gray, CEO of the FMBCC. “We have ensured that our team members have whatever they need to work remotely, if needed, and to continue doing their jobs securely.”

The Visalia Chamber of Commerce board of directors and other local business and organizations began discussing contingency plans for public events, as well as ways to support local businesses and ensure that the economy remains strong through the current health crisis.

Tulare County organizations have already postponed several events including the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, Irish Fest 2020, Cinco Fest 2020 and a Sequoia Symphony Orchestra performance.

“There is a real fear among local businesses that local residents will hunker down. The reality is that we need to continue to support our local businesses — who employ our neighbors — and to support these organizations going forward,” said Gail Zurek, president and CEO of the Visalia Chamber of Commerce.

President’s protections

Along with the announcement of travel restrictions from Europe, President Donald Trump said the administration seeks Congressional approval to provide a $50 billion relief package to small business owners affected by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Trump is directing the Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide liquidity to states and small business owners through low-interest loans. Trump said he will be asking Congress to increase the SBA lending program to $50 billion, more than double the amount of loans the SBA’s flagship lending program made in 2019’s fiscal year, according to SBA website.

Trump also said that “certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted” will be able to defer paying their federal income taxes, normally due on April 15, for three months without incurring any penalties.

“Small businesses are vital economic engines in every community and state, and they have helped make our economy the strongest in the world,” said Jovita Carranza, 26th Administrator of the SBA. “ The SBA will continue to provide every small business with the most effective and customer-focused response during these times of uncertainty.”

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