One of the benefits of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Lee County Economic Development Corporation merging into the Sanford Area Growth Alliance in 2015, is the teamwork and partnership afforded to the previously independent organizations.
Just one example is that Bob Joyce, who leads our economic development efforts, received a request for information from a potential industry. That industry wanted SAGA to “provide in narrative form information about actions taken by local, county government to address the economic impacts of COVID-19 on residents, businesses, and quality of life.”
In addition to including information from our local government entities, we were able to provide information about what SAGA had done to address the impact of COVID-19. I thought it important to share with readers as well.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, SAGA quickly developed the Coronavirus toolkit on our website, www.growsanfordnc.com. The online resource includes information on topics such as funding and loan assistance, community resources, small business assistance, employee/HR references and remote working tools.
The Chamber of Commerce arm of SAGA conducted a COVID-19 Business Survey to determine which businesses had applied for and received Small Business Administration funding, and what could help them deal with the pandemic. More than 90 small businesses participated in the survey.
We conducted virtual small business iInterest groups, to include a focus group for hotels and restaurants, a focus group for nonprofits, and a financial stability focus group. Additionally, we provided a virtual information session on how to get the most forgiveness for your Paycheck Protection Program funds. We partnered with a local CPA firm for this information session.
Via emails to Chamber members, and posts on our social media sites, we shared grant and loan information with businesses, to include Golden Leaf funding, SBA funds (Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan), and the Lee County CARES Emergency Small Business Grant. PPP and EIDL Tip Sheets were also provided to our Chamber members.
In partnership with Downtown Sanford, Incorporated and our Tourism Development Authority, we created the #SafeSanfordNC initiative to help businesses and patrons feel safe about shopping. This was promoted both locally, and on WRAL.com.
In January 2021, SAGA offered a virtual Public Policy event where a representative from the Department of Labor spoke to our local employers and community leaders about COVID at the state level “post-holidays”, and local Health Director Heath Cain was able to provide a local perspective. During this event, we also heard from a medium and small sized business on how they have been able to survive — and thrive — during the pandemic.
From the very beginning, our local HR managers pulled together with weekly “Local HR versus COVID-19” zoom meetings. The HR professionals were able to share best practices, discuss things such as how to find PPE, how to manage employee time off, the FFCRA and now, as they continue to meet monthly, they are discussing how to work with our Health Department to get vaccines for their employees.
The United Way of Lee County was able to assist employers find needed PPE, to include hand sanitizer that local manufacturer, Coty US, pivoted to producing. Coty donated the hand sanitizer to first responders, and other healthcare heroes. Local textile manufacturer, Parkdale, pivoted to manufacturing face masks, and held a free mask give-away where 5,000 face masks were made available to the public at no cost.
Employers and local government in Sanford-Lee County have a history of working together for the common good of the community. So, although the pandemic has hit our small businesses hard, our citizens have supported them by purchasing online and buying gift cards, and our small businesses have shifted their business models to meet the needs or our citizens.
It’s been a tough twelve months. We’re glad to still be receiving a record number of inquiries from potential industries, and look forward to welcoming them to Lee County.