City Council Approved Grant Funding for Austin’s Small Businesses

Good news: federal funding from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act is coming to Austin in the form of grants for small business! After some discussion a revised spending framework was approved by City Council in early June. AIBA advocated for keeping the original amount of $23M on the grounds that small business in Austin is a huge economic generator (employing more than 300,000 people at more than 40,000 small businesses) and can work to get/keep our local economy healthy in these trying times. We also put out a call for stories from locals and want to thank council members and business owners who advocated for keeping original amount. Actions taken at the June 4th meeting can be found here.

$105.5 million will be devoted to “Emergency Response and Management,” which includes $68 million for department operating expenses, while $62.9 million will go to “Medical and Public Health Needs,” which includes protection of vulnerable populations, testing, planning and research, shelters, quarantine facilities, and more. $103.2 million will go to “Economic Support,” which includes direct financial support and food and rent assistance to individuals, as well as support for small businesses, non-profits, the creative sector, childcare providers, worker and customer safety, workforce development, and technical assistance. Of this $103.2 million, funding for “Financial and Other Direct Support” was increased by $12 million from the original proposal for a new total of $27.5 million (which does not include food, rent, or utility bill assistance.) Funding for the creative sector was decreased from $8.5 to $5 million, and funding for non-profits was decreased from $7 million to $6.35 million.

We are disappointed to report that the originally proposed $25.5 million for small business funding was reduced by $9 million to $16.5 million. As we reported in earlier newsletters, this funding will provide small business grants of up to $40,000 each. In addition, there will be $1 million available for commercial rent assistance. As soon as details are available about eligibility requirements and application details, we will post them. Please consider joining us on Tuesday mornings at 9:30 for quick updates. You can RSVP here to get meeting details. You can begin to prepare your application documentation now by taking a few deep breaths and gathering your financials and incorporation paperwork. Be ready when applications open!

An Open Letter to Landlords From Local Business

Dear Landlord,

We’ve been in this mutually-beneficial relationship for a long time, perhaps decades. It’s been good for both of us. We’ve had a place to grow successful local businesses and you’ve made a nice profit.

Now our businesses have an illness called a pandemic. It makes people sick and is sometimes fatal. To help curb this, we have been forced to shut down for an extended period of time. Even now, as we might partially reopen on a curbside and delivery basis, we struggle with the health and safety of employees and customers in addition to all the concerns of a dwindling bank account, federal and local assistance being slow to none, and the unknown future. We’ve had to reinvent ourselves in 10 days just to garner what little bit of business we can. As many in our community look at the numbers of diagnosed illnesses and fatalities of our citizens, we are also looking at the local business fatalities that aren’t included on the daily charts.

We’re intrepid entrepreneurs. So we try to plan for the future. A future that we hope includes you as our landlord. But we need some consideration here. Let’s revisit that mutually beneficial relationship. Work with us. Give us a few months of free or deferred rent. It could be a lifeline to save our business.

For local landlords working with their local business tenants, thank you. This will come back to you in loyal tenants for years.

For those landlords reluctant to give consideration, assess the effects of helping a local business tenant go bankrupt. Finding a new tenant is costly in the best of times, now it’s going to be very expensive because there will be no business expansion for some time to come. We’re all in survival mode. Your space will likely remain vacant for a year or more. What is the cost of that compared to offering a little assistance now?

We recognize that landlords are in business too, some small, some large. You, too, can apply for SBA loans. You, too, can furlough your employees so they can receive unemployment. This is not business as usual. That won’t return for some time. It will return to normal but who knows when? That’s what we all want. But normal means a community filled with thriving local businesses with successful landlords.

We’ve heard from many fronts that we’re all in this together. It’s true. Together means we help each other. If your heart and soul can’t make this leap, look to your bank account. It makes financial sense to work with your current tenant. Reach out to your tenant today and you’ll have a successful relationship for years to come.

Most Sincerely,
Local Business



Sign on and Tell Congress to Save Our Economy

As a member of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), AIBA has supported these initiatives that will benefit local business. It appears Washington is listening to the SAVE OUR ECONOMY NOW campaign organized by the American Sustainable Business Council and the American Independent Business Alliance and other business organizations in response to the health and economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

Reports indicate Congressional leaders and the Administration may be near agreement on a fourth recovery package, widely known as CARES 2, to add another $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) for small businesses, which ran out of funds last week. The package could also include another $60 billion for emergency economic disaster loans under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, as well as $100 billion for COVID-19 testing and support for the health care system.

The package appears to respond to some of the demands we’ve made to SAVE OUR ECONOMY NOW! However, key issues appear to remain unresolved. Unclear is whether the additional health care money is sufficient to meet the need, especially for a comprehensive testing program that would enable businesses to reopen fully without fear that it would lead to a rebound of sickness.

There is also no indication that the problems that arose with the first tranche of PPP will be addressed in this new round. Purple items below are the areas where additional action is necessary.

  1. Implement a comprehensive healthcare strategy IMMEDIATELY that includes widespread testing along with other necessary medical protocols so that businesses can re-open safely and as soon as possible.
  2. Fund the SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) advance NOW!
  3. Implement the new unemployment benefits NOW!
  4. Expand and Modify the CARES Act Payroll Protection Program (PPP)
    • Increase by at least $250 Billion
    • Make the origination date of a PPP loan be the first day that small businesses can legally fully open.
    • Expand to maximum payroll loan amounts to three months after businesses can legally fully open.
    • Provide support for new and smaller businesses in applying NOW! 
  1. Action is needed to meet the needs of 1099 and gig workers.
  2. Action is needed to provide support for people of color, immigrants, and low-income communities and business owners hard hit by the Pandemic
  3. Action is necessary to ensure the resilience of the small-scale and mid-sized farmers, fishers, and ranchers that feed our communities and provide the goods on which many local businesses depend.

Sign on to Save Our Economy Now!

That’s why we’re asking your support to keep the pressure on. Congressional leaders and the administration have indicated that even if CARES 2 passes this week, as expected, additional rounds of relief are likely.

Sign on to send these seven demands to all 535 members of Congress and the President and Vice President. If you’ve already signed, please forward to your networks and ask them to join our campaign.

If you’ve already signed, please call your Senators and Representative to demand they act immediately.

Save Our Economy: Protect Main Street Jobs & Businesses

The Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA) has supported this initiative to better help our local businesses.
Hundreds of thousands of small businesses shuttered by COVID-19 are at risk of closing for good in the coming weeks without direct subsidies. Very small businesses and those with historically limited access to capital are especially vulnerable. With little or no revenue coming in, entire sectors of the small business economy face extinction. Tens of millions of jobs are at stake – along with health care, sick leave, retirement, and other important benefits. The last two weeks of March saw an unprecedented ten million unemployment claims in just two weeks. Without more decisive action the nation could move into the summer with unemployment rates greater than or equal to the Great Depression peak.

Steps taken so far by Congress in the COVID I – III relief packages are important but woefully inadequate. Leading economists and analysts say that the stimulus package programs are too limited to avert this looming disaster. While the current Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has provided an important initial stopgap, it is fundamentally flawed. These limitations are not simply a matter of inadequate funding.

• The SBA and bank lending system is inadequate to deliver the aid necessary to enable small businesses to bridge this crisis and keep their employees off the unemployment rolls. According to Federal data, less than half of small businesses have taken out a loan from a bank within the last five years, implying that the majority of small businesses do not have pre-existing relationships enabling easy take-up of a program based on bank loans.

• The PPP is loan based, which asks small businesses to take on additional debt liability in the midst of a terrifying period of economic and personal uncertainty. Regardless of promises of eventual loan forgiveness, this will be a significant barrier for many.

According to Brookings Institution data, over a quarter of small businesses are at risk of immediate shutdown and over half are vulnerable to severe disruption or shutdown. The situation could not be more urgent. Women entrepreneurs and small business owners of color are particularly at risk. Black entrepreneurs launch their businesses with less capital than white entrepreneurs do, resulting in Black-owned small businesses being smaller, less profitable, and more likely to close. Women business owners raise smaller amounts of capital compared to men overall and raise a smaller portion from external financing. We need programs that help address inequity in lending, not one that exacerbates this problem.

The current implementation difficulties with the PPP show that this route of stimulus is just a first step and not a solution. Main Street businesses need more assistance, easier access to that assistance, and less requirement to assume credit risk. As the crisis lengthens, small businesses will not take out loans for payroll or bring workers back if they may face a balloon payment that will later sink their business. In a recent survey of Main Street Alliance members, overwhelmingly (76%), they say subsidies – not loans – will help them survive the pandemic.

Small businesses need an expansive subsidy program that builds off the PPP. The PPP must be seen as an intermediate approach pending transition to a strategy that can reach all affected small businesses in a more transparent and less bureaucratic manner. Without added and expansive federal action to preserve our small business economy, Main Street will wither, and Wall Street will seize an even greater share of our economy. To protect Main Street jobs, workers, and businesses while they hibernate and/or adapt to save lives during the pandemic, small businesses need a program with the following characteristics:

1. Direct subsidies – not loans – for all employers with 500 and fewer employees to retain or bring back their workers at full wages and benefits and cover fixed costs, including rent, mortgages, utilities, insurance payments. (Most other industrialized countries including Germany, Britain, and Denmark have adopted this approach.)

2. A rapid, streamlined process designed to provide subsidies for all impacted employers and independent contractors with minimal barriers to entry and no confusion or uncertainty.

3. Delivered through the US Treasury, with resources directed to multiple agencies, including State and Local Governments, to ensure effective and universal take up especially among communities of color and other disadvantaged groups.

4. Subsidies convert to loans if misused. Businesses should be required to maintain employment and wage levels and provide access to emergency paid sick time and leave as a condition for receipt of assistance, monitored through payroll tax receipts.

5. Rapid data collection on all COVID relief small business programs regarding uptake and impact to target additional outreach and resources to failing sectors.

6. Safeguards against excess fees and predatory small business lending, including a cap APR for small business loans, ban on confessions of judgement, limits on small business debt collection and a moratorium on commercial evictions.

Congress must act now on a payroll subsidy program that can and will reach all impacted small businesses with urgently needed relief.

The New Economy Could Actually Be Better for Local Business

I know. It’s not feeling better right now but hear me out. This pandemic is forcing local business to learn new skills, find new ways of doing business and reallocate resources. The present is very painful but could ultimately lead us to a better future.

A word about the present first. The pandemic is absolutely crushing for small, local businesses and their employees. Some local businesses won’t survive this. Local business often operates with a two-week financial cushion. If the airline industry (with numerous bailouts and massive tax cuts) can’t continue past three weeks without another bailout, how is a small local business supposed to sustain itself during this crisis? I know you are leveraging every resource you have to survive. I hope you take every advantage of the CARES Act and that it provides enough money to keep you hanging on.

I am amazed at how nimble local business is. I am awed by the creativity, ingenuity and pure grit of entrepreneurs. If you can pause just for one moment and look up, you’ll see it too. Today, take just a moment from the fear and struggle to pat yourself on the back. You’ve had to reinvent your business in two weeks and you’re doing it. No big corporations in America are doing what you’re accomplishing. I applaud you. Bravo.

Local businesses have embraced new ways of connecting with customers because you’ve had to. Curbside service, online cheese tastings, groceries with your favorite takeout meal, community living room picnics, gift cards to your future self and more are the order of the day. This new way of doing business is providing a lifeline to local business. But it’s so much more than that. This is our community caring.

How will these new skills and services continue in the future? Will curbside service, once considered a luxury, continue as an option? It might help our parking problems. Shopping parties and cheese tastings by webinar? If continued, this could substantially increase our customer base, perhaps even beyond Austin. Two burgers, fries and toilet paper delivered? Well maybe not but you get the picture. Can we have all this and the valued gatherings at our local businesses? Yes we can.

It’s times like these that make our community take a look at what really matters—our health of course, our families, our communities. I would add our nation but what is our nation if not a collection of our communities? Take care of communities and our nation will be fine. I have seen an outpouring of kindness in Austin that is absolutely astounding. Families nurturing loved ones, neighbors caring for neighbors, communities supporting and protecting one another (wearing your masks not to protect yourself but to protect others from you), are everywhere. And in that mix is the support of local business.

Local businesses touch each and every one of us. They are our families, neighbors and communities. They will help us survive this pandemic and help us thrive when it is over. But they need our support now in order to do that. Before you hit that “Place your order” button on Amazon, look for what you need from a local business. Amazon may be your choice of necessity now but you don’t want it to be your only choice post-pandemic. Jeff Bezos (Amazon owner and richest man in the world) is worth more than $117 billion because we keep giving him our money. What if we spent that money at local businesses in our community? What if we used this pandemic to turn to what really matters—our local businesses?

Local business delivers, physically and metaphorically. Small businesses with fewer than 20 employees make up 90 percent of all businesses in America. We are the bedrock of our economy and our communities. Small business employs more than half the national workforce and creates 85 percent of our job growth. Small local business is where wealth is built. Do we want to build the 10 percent or build the 90 percent? It’s really that simple.

For all its disaster and heartbreak, the pandemic has given us an opportunity. You may wish for things to return to normal. But is that what we really want? I propose that we create a new economy based on the 90 percent. A world where small businesses thrive and giant corporations are left to figure out how to survive. A world where our government is primarily concerned with fair trade that protects the 90 percent from the 10 percent and works to remove barriers to entrepreneurship. A world where people don’t need to unionize because they have the opportunity to thrive in local business. A world where the profits from our spendings primarily stay in our communities benefiting us all. Change indeed.

This will require a return to helping people thrive as our main focus and not the extreme wealth of a few at the cost of many. How many people can we employ? How much can we pay them as opposed to how little? How many local businesses can we support? This may sound like a utopian future but it isn’t. This could be our future and we are poised to embrace it.

You may think my vision of the future is too big and you are too small. I submit that the “big” you refer to is none other than us. If we take this to Washington, the powerful are powerful because we let them be so. Amazon is Amazon because we give it our money. They do not exist outside of us, their customers. Neither does your favorite local business. Imagine what happens if we “save” the 90 percent and not the 10 percent.

While localist leaders currently work on post-pandemic economic policies that focus on local business, you hold the real power and you can exercise it today. Form this point forward, buy what you need from local business. #TooSmallToFail

Local Business Serves You

Local Business Serves You

We are all learning new ways of…well…doing just about everything during this pandemic. From social distancing to disinfecting, it’s a new world. We’re all concerned for our health, our businesses, our livelihood and more. But I’ve never seen Austin come together like we have now.

So many neighbors are reaching out to others who may need assistance. Groups are being formed to support creatives who are losing so much. Educational institutions are shifting into gear for online and remote learning. Our local government is creating programs for dealing with this pandemic and protecting us as much as possible. And local businesses are rising to the needs of our community.

While many local business doors are shuttered for now, they are desperately trying to take care of their employees and survive long enough to be here when this storm passes. If we want things to return to normal, even a ‘new normal’, we need our local businesses.

AIBA has created a database of local businesses and all the ways they can deliver their goods and services to you. From curb service to cheese webinars to take out, they’re stretching to reach you where you feel comfortable. Local Business Serves You tells you who is doing what. We are updating this list every 24 hours. We’re doing this so you can find a safe way to support your locals through this pandemic.

Austin is a community that cares. We’re showing it in so many ways. Show your locals some love by supporting them however you can.

If you own a local business, get listed here.