In the past week, Florida has begun to reopen the economy and drop the quarantine, and our Governor has gone around the state, essentially declaring victory and proclaiming that this crisis is all but over.
However, while our state may be opening up for business, it certainly won’t be business as usual — not for my small business nor for thousands across the state. The truth is that small businesses like mine have sustained massive economic damage, which will take months or years to recover.
As a wholesale distributor of party and entertainment equipment and supplies, primarily to the cruising industry, our company has been faced with a tough wall to climb in the face of coronavirus, waiting for sales and cruising to restart, despite an uncertain future.
It is very tough to watch an organization built through hard work, started in your own family over 50 years ago, face catastrophe for reasons totally outside of your control. It is harder still to see your state government turn a blind eye to your suffering.
While our business was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, it is almost certainly not going to be enough to sustain a full recovery. I believe there is much that our state can do, on top of federal action, to support small businesses like my own, which makeup 42% of Florida’s private workforce and are the pillars of our local economy.
There is one easy way that our Governor and legislature can assist with a smoother recovery: replenishing funds for the state’s small business bridge loan program, and ensuring that the bridge loans are doled out transparently to small businesses across the state who truly need the help.
It was with great dismay that I saw that even though over 38,000 small businesses applied, Florida’s bridge loans were only given to 1,000 applicants across the entire state. But very few of them were distributed to businesses in South Florida. My county, Miami-Dade, only received 88 small business bridge loans of approximately 944, despite being hit harder by coronavirus than anywhere else in the state. By comparison, Leon County — which is less populous by far, but contains our state Capitol Tallahassee — had far fewer cases of COVID-19 and still received more dollars than ours.
To make matters worse, it is now clear that some of these few recipients obtained multiple loans, of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, by taking advantage of a loophole that allows them to apply and receive funds through various LLCs.
By investing more money into this fund (which was originally capped at just $50 million) and closing these loopholes, I believe that it would give businesses like mine a lifeline to adjust to the new realities of a COVID-19 world. Even if state leaders are right and we have truly flattened the curve, our major economic industries — like tourism and entertainment — are not likely to rebound overnight.
The small business bridge program is typically used after hurricanes, but the truth is that this pandemic is causing far worse damage than any cyclone we’ve experienced before. If we want to truly weather this storm together, we will need our state leaders to do more to take care of the thousands of small businesses in our state struggling to keep the lights on.
Tim Dorr is the owner of General Sales, Inc., a wholesale supplier located in Miami.