Capital Region Business Response Team efforts lead to new initiatives to aid small businesses and strengthen connections across region
Richmond, VA — At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, a group of business, community, and governmental leaders representing Richmond and its surrounding localities developed a collaborative, regional response to address the pandemic’s impact on Central Virginia’s economy. Representing nearly 40 organizations, the Capital Region Business Response Team’s collective efforts have generated nearly $16 million in grants and loans to businesses throughout Greater Richmond. The coalition has also delivered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) toolkits to more than 2,000 businesses, and launched several new initiatives to aid small companies.
In mid-March, Leonard Sledge, Director of Economic Development for the City of Richmond, initiated what led to the coalition after a phone call with Brian Anderson, President & CEO of ChamberRVA, and Floyd Miller, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Business League. That effort led to creating a series of virtual meetings where local leaders were able to meet and collaborate on effective ways to support local businesses, allowing organizations to leverage other resources and talents to design new outreach efforts and best serve their constituencies at a critical moment. “I appreciated how quickly the group came together and worked selflessly,” said Sledge, who said the effort far exceeded his expectations.
The meetings created a forum for regional collaboration and information-sharing as the pandemic unfolded. Anderson said these digital sessions “epitomized regionalism” and the ad hoc group “came together to make a difficult situation better and made a difference in the psyche of small businesses who were reeling from the crisis.”
Engagement and Partnership Drove Outreach and Support
Key initiatives developed or enhanced as a direct result of the regional group’s collaboration include:
- The Capital Region Business Response Team distributed nearly 2,000 PPE toolkits to businesses and organizations from New Kent to Powhatan, Hanover to Hopewell, and all communities in between, as well as resources for local businesses. It included:
- Financial contributions toward the Business Response Team from GO Virginia and its Region 4 Council.
- The Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan Program, which has provided $854,920 in short-term capital to support local businesses.
- City of Richmond’s First Responder Meal Program paid local restaurants $207,968 to provide over 17,000 meals for the City’s Public Safety First Responders.
- The Chesterfield County Back in Business Grant, which has provided $1.9 million in grants to local businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19.
- The Virginia Restaurant, Travel, and Lodging Association’s Virginia Restaurant Promise, a set of commitments to employees and customers, distributed to restaurants to help businesses meet reopening requirements.
- ChamberRVA’s RVA Small Business Relief Fund, seeded by $250,000 from Facebook, which aims to “provide immediate relief to our region’s small businesses in the form of unrestricted grants as a stop-gap relief pending the release and distribution of anticipated federal and state aid.”
- The Central Virginia African American Chamber of Commerce’s Black Business Accelerator Program, which helps “propel African American businesses to a level in which they can compete and perform equally with majority businesses that have stronger roots and relationships.” The program offers guidance for best business practices and provides interaction opportunities with corporate executives and industry leaders.
- LISC Virginia is currently managing 4 micro-enterprise and small business grant funds in the Richmond region, with a total fund size of $1,060,000. One additional program will be announced in the fall.
- Ashland’s Safety Enhancement Grant Program, which provides up to $2,000 to local businesses to help them meet Virginia’s enhanced safety guidelines for phased reopening.
- Goochland County’s Back to Business Grant which provides grants to reimburse businesses for costs associated with COVID related purchases and the e-Commerce Grant Program, which facilitates access to technology for small, for-profit private businesses located in the county.
- New Kent County provided $102,500 in small business grants along with $35,000 of interest free loans to help support local businesses who had not received any type of financial assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or EIDL funds.
- The Hanover Chamber of Commerce’s Coalition Series, which are webinars featuring Ashland and Hanover experts on succeeding through and out of the pandemic.
- Powhatan County’s Business Assistance Grant Program, which is providing $517,000 to local business to assist with the impact of COVID-19 related costs to their businesses.
- Henrico County’s Nourish Henrico program provided $340,000 to local restaurants for meals for first responders and the Henrico EDA deposited $2 million toward Virginia Community Capital’s SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
- VCC provided 42 PPP loans in Henrico County worth $4.1 million; borrowers included three nonprofit organizations, 10 women-owned businesses, and seven minority-owned businesses; 382 jobs were retained as a result of the program.
Strong Participation from Across the Region
More than 50 leaders participated in these sessions, representing a diverse group of organizations with local, regional, and statewide service.
Local leaders who participated in the Richmond region’s COVID-19 response meetings praised the opportunity to regularly share information and resources, as well as to strengthen relationships with their peers.
- For Floyd Miller, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Business League, the biggest takeaway was the genuine concern about giving back and working together. He appreciated the opportunity for the MBL to have a seat at the table with other regional leaders. “It allowed them to know more about what we do and allowed us to learn more about what other people were doing. I hope that it continues when we get through the pandemic,” Miller added.
- Melissa Miller, Executive Director of the Hanover Chamber of Commerce, said the response group “made us stronger as a region and allowed our chamber to be better informed,” adding that the meetings gave her “the feeling that our region truly is in this together and wanted to respond collectively.”
- Garrett Hart, Director of Economic Development for Chesterfield County, noted that the coalition comprised a “great group of caring regional minded organizations, all with the single goal of helping in any way possible.”
- Joe Topham, Business Retention and Expansion Manager for the Ashland Office of Business and Economic Development, said that “hearing other people going through the same problems and learning from more experienced leaders was a really valuable experience.”
- Sara Worley, Economic Development Coordinator for Goochland County, made “connections to resources and other [Economic Development] offices, which has been extremely beneficial.”
Capital Region Business Response Team Participating Organizations
Ashland Office of Business and Economic Development
Central Virginia African American Chamber of Commerce
Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce
Chesterfield Economic Development
City of Richmond
Community College Workforce Alliance
Community Foundation for a greater Richmond
Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond
Goochland County Economic Development
Greater Richmond Partnership
GROW Capital Jobs Foundation
Hanover Chamber of Commerce
Hanover County Department of Economic Development
Henrico Economic Development Authority
Mama J’s Kitchen
Metropolitan Business League
New Kent County Economic Development
Office of the Governor
Opportunity Virginia (LOCUS Impact Investing)
Powhatan Economic Development
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative
Retail Merchants Association
Richmond Department of Economic Development
Richmond International Airport
Richmond Region Tourism
Virginia Black Restaurant Experience
Virginia Community Capital
Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development
Virginia Restaurant, Travel, and Lodging Association
Virginia’s Gateway Region