Boonslick Economic Development Director Gigi McAreavy since taking on the job October 2019 has gone from keeping and getting businesses to the area, to dealing with COVID-19 on a daily basis.
With more than 350 businesses currently holding licenses in Boonville, McAreavy admits she hasn’t seen anything like this in her lifetime.
“Small businesses, and even the larger businesses that I have talked to, [are] trying to be creative on how to continue through this pandemic,“ she said. “I just talked to a retailer who said their doors were closed but are doing a promotion to offer 30 percent off for birthdays of the month.”
While Cooper County has fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 than neighboring counties, it still is feeling its impact financially. There are 6,142 cases statewide, with 229 deaths. The Missouri Department of Labor has received more than 350,000 unemployement claims in the past month, as of April 18. April unemployment data for Cooper County is not yet available from the state labor department.
McAreavy is concerned that small businesses that were just getting started as the pandemic hit will not be able to survive.
"What scares me is the businesses that didn’t have any type of emergency fund,“ she said. ”That’s why it is so important to look for resources out there because they’re trying to help small businesses.”
The Paycheck Protection Program will help small businesses some. It authorized loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. All the money in the fund had been allocated and a deal was reached Tuesday to inject more funds in the program.
AmerenUE also has stepped up by not turning customers’ power off, McAreavy said.
Boonville has formulated a plan called the “Buy Boonville, Build Boonville Challenge.” The plan gives a $15 credit for every $25 that the individual spends in a Boonville business toward their water and sewer bill up to a certain amount.
Boonville also developed its own relief package, McAreavy said. Customers who have fallen behind on payments are given a waiver. Late payments are suspended April 24 through July 1. The city then will spread out payments of $150 and greater over six months upon application.
“What’s been so humbling is to see the support we have in the community,” McAreavy said. “I have tried to reach out to everyone about different avenues they can take for their businesses.”
Each business has a different scenario, which is where small grants from USDA, MFA and Missouri Department of Economic Development can help, she said. There also is a $13.6 million pot of Community Development Block Grants for which muncipalities and counties can apply.
All businesses are important to McAreavy, but her main focus is trying to get health care back to Boonville. With Pinnacle Hospital closing in January and laying off its remaining staff last week, McAreavy said she would like to get the health situation back into the community.
“I want to bring our doctors back,” she said. “Hospitals shutting down is just not in Boonville. I know a number of hospitals in the state that have closed their doors.”
So that is why McAreavy is working so hard to support local small businesses. Because there are so many grants available, you would have to hire a part-time employee just to write applications, she said.
McAreavy’s work is a collective effort, though, with other organizations doing their part to get information out there, she said. These include Boonville Chamber of Commerce, Boonville Tourism, the city, Boonville Daily News and KWRT.
McAreavy recently sent letters to Blackwater, Otterville, Prairie Home, Bunceton and Pilot Grove about broadband as well as school district superintendents. She continues to contact businesses by phone or email as well due to Gov. Mike Parson’s extension of the stay-at-home order through May 3.
“I’m not doing face to face except when I go to buy food to support the local grocery store,” McAreavy said. “I even started a Facebook page but had to put it on hold when this pandemic hit.”
McAreavy is not naive to think every business will come through this, though. What keeps her going daily is that businesses are surviving by being creative.
She cited CMMG, which went to split shifts where employees are working longer hours or on weekends to limit the number of employees in the facility and keep employees further apart.
“I think if people put measures like this in place it will make people feel safer,” McAreavy said.
Restaurants in town are doing curbside pick-up while others have put guests back to back and spread them out. Condiments and anything else that could be touched were taken off tables and were provided when requested. They were sanitized after use.
Walmart has limited the number of customers in a store at one time and are cleaning carts, as is C&R, McAreavy said.
Those with questions or looking for grants or other resources can contact McAreavy at 660-882-4001 or email email@example.com.
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