Written by Brantley Strickland, SCCED
As the economic ramifications of a worldwide health crisis loomed, economic development officials throughout the state were preparing to protect their most precious commodity: existing industries.
And things are no different in Sumter County, where local manufacturers have managed to navigate COVID-19 with a little help from their friends near and far.
“We’ve tried to help in any way we can, and we know better than anyone that companies are getting flooded with information about COVID-19,” said Brian Rauschenbach, SCCED, Project Manager for Sumter Economic Development. “Some of the things we’ve been trying to do throughout this pandemic is to protect our companies by relaying the most relevant information possible, while being a connector and problem solver.”
Some of the most pertinent information companies have found use for include news on the federal government’s recently-launched the Paycheck Protection Program.
Administered through the Small Business Administration, PPP loans were designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The loans, which carry a 1 percent interest rate, are forgivable if the applicants meet certain benchmarks. Among the criteria, all employees must be kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities.
As an indirect result, economic developers like Rauschenbach have been thrust into the position of information conduit for companies looking to utilize the funding to help weather the economic ramifications of COVID-19. The SBA estimates 61 percent of all small business (500 employees or smaller) have applied for PPP funding.
“We are hearing a good success rate for approval, depending on the financial institution they choose to use,” Rauschenbach said. “You have to remember the program was rolled out very quickly which caused some delays. Companies have applied with financial institutions both locally and nationally, including QuickBooks. We have several that have applied and been approved that have already received funding.”
Rauschenbach also mentioned the Department of Commerce’s COVID-19 response microsite as a critical resource for Sumter County companies.
“I think Commerce has done a great job with their webpage,” he said. “It’s been a great central hub for information that we can direct companies to.”
Although some companies have reported furloughs and reductions in orders because of the recent economic climate, the long-term outlook continues to trend upward.
“As difficult as this has been for our companies, both large and small, they have done very well during this trying time,” Rauschenbach said. “We’re very fortunate to have a solid manufacturing base, and we’re ready to move forward. Times like these show the importance of a having great relationships with employers and having a strong business retention and expansion program in place. Once a company locates to our region, they are part of our family and we want them to thrive, no matter the situation.”
For more information on Sumter Economic Development, visit sumteredge.com. Rauschenbach is also on Linkedin at: linkedin.com/in/brian-rauschenbach-306734104.