Prior to the coronavirus impacting Grand Island’s economy, the community had a good start of the year in January and February.
According to statistics from the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, both the food and beverage tax and the lodging tax were up from the prior year. In 2019, Grand Island’s economy started off slowly but picked up steam, especially during the holiday shopping months of November and December, to end the year with more than a billion dollars in taxable sales.
In February, the city’s food and beverage tax was up 10.21% from February 2019, with $179,027 in tax revenues collected.
Grand Island’s lodging tax in January was up over the previous year at $49,238 compared with $44,088 in 2019.
But with the spread of the coronavirus in March and federal, state and local officials asking people not to gather in crowds of more than 10 or to stay home to lessen the spread of the virus, many of the businesses that provide revenue to the city in the form of food, beverage and lodging are now closed or are handicapped in the way they conduct business.
Many of their workers have been laid off or furloughed. Others have taken pay cuts or reduced hours as businesses struggle to keep their operations going during the COVID-19 lockdown.
In response to COVID-19, Cindy Johnson, president of the Grand island Chamber of Commerce, said congressional leaders have implemented a series of resources to assist businesses during these challenging economic times.
Johnson said many of the programs provide financial assistance, either in the form of forgivable loans or standard low-interest loans.
Program applications and resources are available online at the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce’s website, www.gichamber.com/covid-19-resources.
A few of these resources are:
— The Paycheck Protection Program
— The Emergency Economic Injury Grant
— The Small Business Debt Relief Program
“The chamber is committed to providing resources for businesses, employees, and members of the community,” Johnson said.
Companies are continuously assessing and identifying short-term solutions as they attempt to manage their businesses in these unprecedented times, she said.
“By providing this information on the chamber website, business owners and leaders can navigate and gain an understanding of the numerous resources offered,” Johnson said.
She said it is not business as usual for most people because of the virus.
“We’re all a bit overwhelmed, and no business has been untouched,” Johnson said. “Having information to help develop a plan and subsequent actions to move forward is one of the most important steps a business can take at this time. It’s most important that we stay safe, stay healthy and stay focused.”
One tool, she said, is the Small Business Association Paycheck Protection Program.
With small businesses being the heart of the Grand Island economy and experiencing an economic hit, the program can provide as much as 2.5 times a business’s average monthly payroll costs, based on 2019 data.
The program is available for small businesses, including nonprofits, veterans organizations, tribal concerns, self-employed individuals and independent contractors with 500 or fewer employees or no greater than the number of employees set by the SBA as the size standard for certain industries.
The city’s lodging tax and food and beverage tax revenues support many of the promotions that bring visitors to Grand Island. But with many of the businesses that collect those taxes impacted by the coronavirus, Johnson said the community is fighting back, trying to be a ray of hope until the virus’s impact has passed.
On March 29, the first Virtual Shop Local Sunday happened. Johnson said more than 20 businesses participated in the event, which encouraged customers to shop locally, from the comfort of their homes.
She said many of the businesses, such as Hobby Town, Snow’s Floral and Bella Design & Decor, offered special deals and curbside pickup. Images Bar & Grill had cocktails to go, while Iris Photography offered contact-free photo lessons for sports team.
To support local restaurants, Johnson said, Gov. Pete Ricketts has declared every Tuesday in April as #TakeoutTuesday.
She said to promote the event, the chamber has created a bingo card promotion.
“From now until May 1, each time you order takeout, snap a picture of your purchase, post it to your social media, and mark off one spot on your bingo card,” Johnson said.
Participants who get a bingo, and email their completed card and picture to the chamber by May 1, could win a gift card to the Grand Island restaurant of their choice.
“This Tuesday, I enjoyed a hamburger and fries from 40 North,” Johnson said. “Have fun, eat local and grow local.”