Austin Public Health Moves to Stage 4 of Risk-Based Guidelines

Austin-Travis County Health Authority announced today that Austin Public Health (APH) is moving into Stage 4 of the Risk-Based Guidelines. We are still seeing high numbers of people in who require care in intensive care units (ICUs)  but the seven-day moving averages of new COVID-19 cases, hospital admissions and positivity rates are continuing to drop in the Austin area. The Health Authority has said that the credit for this good news goes to the “power of people working together”.

As it relates to business operations in Austin, Stage 4 recommendations include the following: 

•            Fully vaccinated individuals should wear a mask when participating in indoor gatherings, traveling, and dining or shopping, and should wear a mask for outdoor gatherings, if they are unable to socially distance.

•            Partially or unvaccinated individuals should avoid gatherings, travel, dining, and shopping unless essential. Wear a mask when conducting essential activities.

As a reminder, these Risk-Based Guidelines describe five distinct stages of risk for Austin and Travis County and DO NOT signal changes to local rules or regulations for businesses. As always, these are “guidelines and recommendations for individual actions and behaviors based on levels of risk of exposure in the community.” APH was sure to remind the public that “everyone should continue to follow any additional requirements put in place by local businesses, venues, and schools regardless of their vaccination status or stage.”

The City is still maintaining www.ATXrecovers.com For additional business guidance and recommendations to help prioritize the well-being of employees and customers.

Funding Resources for Small Business

Texas is known as a favorable climate for business based in part on our comparatively low tax burden (we know from surveys that it definitely does not feel low to most of you) and favorable regulatory environment. Surprisingly, costs for some of the basics business needs like real estate, energy, wages, and taxes are lower in Texas than in the rest of the country. In 2018, these costs were 2% below the national average! Austin has more than 54,000 businesses with less than 100 employees, as recorded in the 2019 census. This impressive count may be due in part to the amazing resources available to local businesses in Austin. As every business owner knows, funding is one of the most important pieces of a solid business plan. Except for the independently wealthy among us, we all need funding to start a new business or to grow an existing one. Below is a brief outline of some of the funding resources available to Austin businesses.

ACCION Texas is a financial support system for small businesses that advances racial, gender, and economic justice for all.  They are a nonprofit organization that provides credit to small businesses with at least 12 months in business, $50,000 or more in annual sales, owner of at least 20% of the business, owner at least 18 years or older.

Bank loans are obvious place to look for funding for a new business is to your bank. Some small local banks are more willing to work with new business owners and have non-traditional programs. Even with some banks working hard to support small business, it can still be very hard to qualify for bank loans.

BCL of Texas supports Texans to acquire wealth-building assets, such as home ownership and entrepreneurship, with the financial tools and education necessary to build personal net worth. They are a U.S. Treasury Certified Development Financial Institution (CDFI), a U.S. Small Business Administration Certified Development Corporation (CDC), and a HUD-certified housing counseling agency. They offer loans of $5,000 to $50,000 for small businesses.

Business Investment Growth, BiGAUSTIN is certified by the U.S. Department of Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). They operate as a nonprofit providing training and loans to small businesses, especially minority- and women-owned businesses, in Central Texas. They lend up to $15,000 to start-ups and up to $50,000 for established businesses and have 1 – 6 year payback terms.

Capital CDC is a private, non-profit provider of small business financing throughout Texas, New Mexico, and Arkansas offering SBA 504 loans for fixed assets such as land or buildings. Additionally, they offer a Community Advantage Loan Program as a companion loan to assist small businesses in “under served” markets with the financing of working capital.

Family Business Loan Program is a public-private partnership between the City of Austin, HUD, and participating private lenders to offer low-interest loans to qualified small businesses that are expanding and creating jobs. They offer low interest rates, flexible repayment terms, and low equity requirements.

LiftFund provides credit and services to small businesses and entrepreneurs who do not have access to loans from commercial sources through direct capital including SBA microloans, SBA Community Advantage, SBA 504 Loans, EDA Loans in a 14-state footprint.

PeopleFund is a nonprofit organization, a U.S. Treasury certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) and a SBA certified lender. Lends up to $250,000 to Texas businesses that do not qualify for bank loans and provide complimentary client business assistance and education.

Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) are privately owned and managed investment firms that use their own capital, plus funds borrowed at favorable rates with an SBA guarantee, to make venture capital investments in small businesses. They are licensed and regulated by the SBA.

Texas Venture Capital and Private Equity Directory provides investment firm profiles and financing frequently updated. This directory serves local entrepreneurs looking to raise capital, investors who wish to network with other investors and service providers who need a directory of investment firms.

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) operates a number of programs designed to assist small businesses access financing from lending institutions. You must go through the normal application process for an SBA loan. As a large government funding operation, they have many resources to offer.

Veteran Business Initiative is a public private partnership between the City of Austin in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which offers a low-interest rate loan and low borrower equity requirements to help create or expand a business. They offer low interest rates, flexible repayment terms, and low equity requirements.

Austin Enters Stage 4 COVID-19

Austin and Travis County have entered stage 4 of the Austin Public Health risk guidelines as Covid-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continue their recent rapid increase. This move comes just on the heels of the move to stage 3 a week ago. Officials are asking everyone to wear masks indoors, even if they’re partially or fully vaccinated.

These stage 4 guidelines include asking vaccinated residents to wear masks at private indoor gatherings and at outdoor gatherings if social distancing is not possible and masking while traveling, dining and shopping. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated residents should avoid private indoor and outdoor gatherings, and travel, dine and shop only if it is essential (with masks).

Advice for protecting your employees and your customers can be found here from the City of Austin’s Covid-19 Economic Recovery site: https://www.austintexas.gov/economicrecovery.

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IndieAustin: Freestyle Language

Freestyle Languages, founded by former French instructor Elizabeth Mack, has a mission to connect people through language. Being an incurable Francophile has its challenges in the middle of Texas, but as a UT alum she insists: everything is possible in Austin! However, the dynamics driving the Freestyle mission go well beyond France. Elizabeth considers the most extraordinary example of the potential for human connection and social change through language learning to be the one set by Nelson Mandela: he had learned Afrikaans during his 27-year imprisonment to successfully negotiate an end to Apartheid.  “Speak to a man in a language he understands, it goes to his head… speak to him in his own language, it goes to his heart,” said Mandela. Happily, Elizabeth reminds us, the human brain is designed specifically for language (yes, at any age!) and for connection. 

At Texas State University, Elizabeth had grown increasingly disenchanted with the academic model, and before long she found herself ‘in trouble’ for using her own strategies over the mandated curriculum. Digging deeper, she discovered that language learning science is solid, yet nobody seems to use it. Armed with little more than a love for learning languages—no curriculum, instructors or financial backing—she left her position to start Freestyle in 2012.  

During the span of eight years, Freestyle developed a methodology, curriculum and team while enjoying a growing community of adult Spanish, French and Italian learners. Success stories multiplied as learners enjoyed the stress-free and science-backed model: in the end, it’s all about having fun! (Bilingual wine tasting, anybody?) They had a good thing going. Then, COVID-19. 

It is said that success can be found at the intersection of preparation and opportunity. While it’s hard to love any opportunity associated with this pandemic, here it was. In 2017, Freestyle had started working on an online model, ready to reach the world. With learning outcomes as a ‘North Star’, the team worked for two years on just one course to get it right, insisting on only using what results in success. For language learning online, it’s all about the ‘flipped’ model (recorded video in conjunction with live face-to-face virtual interaction.) Success and fun are not mutually exclusive online!  With synchronous and asynchronous options, Freestyle now loves being 100% online. The pandemic has spared few small businesses, but despite the challenges, having learners and instructors across the country and globe, in both a B2C and now a thriving B2B program, is a potential dream (out of a nightmare?)  

Freestyle’s corporate ‘Language at Work’ program offers specialized language training ranging from fields such as construction (now with ESL for Spanish speakers) to UX design, as more firms incorporate a language strategy for the many competitive and team benefits. This program is very useful and really speaks to the spirit of Austin! Yes, beloved Austin… Freestyle considers itself a devout Austin local! Developing meaningful partnerships with local organizations who share a global vision (Whole Planet Foundation, Well Aware, Austin Vida, and Austin Opera to name a few) multiplies our ability to connect through language and enhance our cultural capital. Find more information about Freestyle Languages here or call them at 888-982-HOLA. C’est magnifique! #GoLocal #ThinkGlobal #WineTheGreatFluencyBuilder 

Austin Moves to Stage 3 Covid-19 Risk Level

On Thursday, July 15th, Austin city officials moved from Stage 2 to Stage 3 covid-19 risk based guidelines due to a rise in new cases, which doubled, and hospitalizations, which neared 20, in the preceding days. This move reflects the City’s stated goals to follow science and data to guide risk level decisions. No new recommendations for businesses were included in the announcement of this move. As a reminder, stage 3 recommendations include the following:  fully vaccinated individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings and dine and shop without masking (if allowed by the business) and can travel with masking; partially vaccinated or unvaccinated low-risk individuals can participate in indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dine, shop, and travel with masking; and partially vaccinated or unvaccinated high-risk individuals should avoid non-essential indoor and outdoor private gatherings, dining, shopping, and travel. 

The guidelines are careful to note that “everyone should continue to follow any additional requirements of local businesses, venues, and schools regardless of vaccination status or stage,” which reinforces a business owner’s right to require masks if they choose. Reasons to continue to require masks include a desire to protect customers and employees who may not be eligible for vaccination and to help prevent the spread of the disease to children who do not yet have the ability to receive a Covid-10 vaccine. We published an editable flyer for business owners to use should they decide to continue to require masks. Request a copy here.

Questions about how to modify your operations? Issues with implementing or eliminating mask requirements with employees or customers? Ideas for best practices that you’d like to share? We are here for all of it – reach out at hello@ibuyaustin.com.