Opinion: Despite the pandemic, Kentucky small businesses are resilient and determined
In my role as the State Director for the Kentucky Small Business Development Center (Kentucky SBDC), I saw the way the 2020 pandemic affected businesses in Kentucky up close—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Kentucky relies on 355,998 small businesses for 712,477 jobs, and many of these found themselves at risk amid a global catastrophe unlike any we’ve known.
The “bad” and the “ugly” of the virus’s impact on the economy are all too apparent. We’ve seen businesses across all economic sectors shrink, limp along waiting for a resolution, or even close their doors. What’s amazing, though not surprising, are the businesses that are thriving and starting despite the unique circumstances we find ourselves in today. It’s evidence of what I’ve long known to be true: Kentucky small businesses are resilient and determined.
At the Kentucky Small Business Development Center, we are honored to be part of the “good” that is keeping our small businesses in action.
For 40 years now, Kentucky SBDC has existed as an organization that helps entrepreneurs make the right strategic moves for new and existing businesses. We are here to help small businesses through any disaster—including COVID-19.
Over the past year, businesses have come to Kentucky SBDC hopeful for relief and a hand up as they treaded the murky waters of the pandemic. We were ready for them. We increased our business coaches from 12 to 33. These coaches helped 2,988 business owners understand the varied COVID-19 relief programs and funding options, locate participating lenders, and develop a plan for moving forward. We also helped businesses navigate supply chain issues, create a plan for moving operations online, or analyze cash flow to determine next steps.
Though some businesses have closed, it’s not the end of times many thought it would be. During the past program year, the Kentucky SBDC assisted clients in starting 267 new businesses despite the pandemic, and helped small business owners access over $74 million in financing. These represent traditional business, like restaurants and coffee shops, and new businesses that were started to meet the new needs coming out of the pandemic.
There has also been incredible innovation in our existing businesses. Some businesses were once nervous to start an online store, having always relied on the brick and mortar, but the virus pushed them to finally launch an online store, opening up a world of potential clients. Some discovered that their staff became more productive when they had the flexibility of working from home. It hasn’t been easy, but there is something to be said for the way business owners have been forced out of their comfort zones, taking new steps and embracing new technologies rather than growing stagnate.
We at Kentucky SBDC have also been challenged to act on ideas we had pre-COVID to expand the technology tools we provide to the Kentucky SBDC network. These tools are now allowing for improved virtual coaching options, impressive webinars and training, and a client/coach interactive business planning platform for virtual collaboration. We have had more than 12,000 webinar attendees since the pandemic began.
We will be honoring 10 innovative businesses from across the Commonwealth, Kentucky’s Pacesetters, during the delayed 2020 Kentucky Celebrates Small Business Awards Ceremony. Recipients are recognized for their understanding of the market, innovativeness in their product or service, strong leadership, and management. They strengthen the economy of Kentucky and provide a great example for future businesses. Kentucky SBDC is proud to be a behind-the-scenes part of their success.
Like so many others, we have shifted gears and are taking this celebration online, live-streaming from our Facebook page at noon on March 17. We hope this means even more Kentuckians can join us to commemorate not only the incredible work of small business owners in Kentucky, but also Kentucky SBDC’s 40th anniversary.
Times have been and continue to be challenging, but there is hope for small business employers in our economy. Our 33 business coaches are available to help these companies, whether they need capital to get started or stay in business, or a whole new model for their operations. Our small businesses give so much to our communities: character, jobs, culture. At the Kentucky Small Business Development Center, we are committed to giving back.
Kristina Joyce is the State Director for the Kentucky Small Business Development Center, a network of 17 offices located throughout the state. The center helps existing and start-up businesses succeed by offering high-quality, in-depth and hands-on services. Kentucky SBDC is funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U. S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SBA. Kentucky SBDC is hosted by the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and supported by various partners statewide. For more information on Kentucky SBDC services, visit their website, www.kentuckysbdc.com.
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