City hosts business town hall

Sunday, March 22, 2020
Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation CEO Kiley Miller talks about the current climate for small business during the spread of COVID-19 across the state of Iowa alongside Spencer City Manager Amanda Mack
Photo by Joseph Hopper

City leaders hosted a business town hall via phone and online videoconference from inside the Spencer City Council Chambers Friday afternoon, alongside officials from Spencer Main Street, the Spencer Chamber of Commerce and the Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation. Approximately 70 participants dialed into the meeting, which Spencer City Manager Amanda Mack said was hoped to be the first in a series which would continue as government response to the COVID-19 virus develops throughout the state.

“The governor did announce an additional state public health emergency declaration, so what does this mean?” Mack said. “It temporarily suspends collection of property taxes and penalties in interest, it temporarily suspends some evictions, it permits the sale of carry out, delivery, drive-thru of alcohol for unopened bottles of alcohol for bars and restaurants and suspends some of those fees. It permits public meetings or hearings by electronic means ... and it suspends certain regulations to ease the transportation of agricultural supplies and commodities, food, medical supplies, cleaning products and other household goods on all highways in Iowa.

She continued, “The short response on unemployment is, if you are temporarily laying off employees or have employees who are out because of quarantine, because schools are closed and they don't have available daycare, those employees are eligible for unemployment benefits. We are encouraging you to work with Iowa Workforce Development if you have employees that fit into those categories to make sure they have appropriate information. One recommendation we are consistently hearing from the state is trying to keep as many employees on board as you can, but as business slows down it may be necessary for you to furlough or temporarily reassign people, there are programs available, they want to be as helpful as possible. Also you may want to look into the voluntary shared work program. In a nutshell what this is, if you’ve reduced an employees’ work hours by 20% to 50%, for qualifying work programs the unemployment benefits will makeup the difference in lost wages for those employees. We’ll post these documents to the city’s website and to our Facebook page and they'll be included in our daily newsletter.”

Iowa Lakes Corridor Development Corporation CEO Kiley Miller gave comment to the suspected impending action from the U.S. Small Business Administration to issue a disaster declaration for the state of Iowa, which allows impacted small businesses to apply for support loans. Gov. Kim Reynolds officially announced the SBA issuing an economic injury disaster loan declaration for Iowa less than 24 hours after the meeting.

“Government and the private sector across all levels are working right now to find ways to support small business, it’s recognized that small business is the drivers of jobs and economic vitality and you can draw comfort from the fact that there are leaders across the nation trying to find mechanisms for assistance,” Miller said. “As I’m sure you’ve heard, Gov. Kim Reynolds has applied on behalf of all 99 counties for a disaster declaration from the small business administration. ... First, the corridor urges any business out there or nonprofit that’s considering seeking SBA loans to first speak with your lenders. Speak with your lenders, never get involved in a debt instrument without talking to your bankers, they are in your corner and they’re here to help.

He continued, “Now if you do plan to apply for an SBA loan, Michael Wampler at the small business development center, a very skilled director here in northwest Iowa, offers these insights. He says to start getting prepared right now. That means gathering the documents you might need for that application, that includes your last three years of federal tax returns for your business, your last three years of personal tax returns, personal financial statement and articles of incorporation, certificate of organization. It may even be helpful for you to put together a business plan with financial projections, although that might not be necessary. Michael also suggested it’s time to start documenting lost revenues. For example, let’s say you’re a wedding planner and you add a wedding plan for $2,000 and they just canceled, that is a documented lost revenue. Get that information down so when you apply you can demonstrate the negative impacts to your business.”

The corridor CEO said the state recently sent a survey to small businesses last week, with the information gathered informing decision making as state officials “consider statewide incentives to support small businesses.” Miller also extended some advice from within his organization to business owners.

“On our team, Brian Dalziel, our senior vice president, he’s recommending that we work to reframe the situation in our minds,” Miller said. “If you get beset by worrying, use this time to work on your business rather than just in your business. Refine some of the processes that have been bottlenecks or just headaches in the past, and you'll feel better if you feel like you’re improving the quality of your business during this time. Brian is available for conversation and commiseration as needed, you can reach him at”

Spencer Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sheriffa Jones shared the chamber’s efforts in creating a Google Doc hosted on the chamber’s website and Facebook page detailing up to date information for area restaurants such as contact information, if carry-out is offered and if the business utilizes gift cards. Spencer Main Street Executive Director Nancy Naeve encouraged the community to continue to support local businesses during this time, noting that many retailers are still remaining open at this time.

“What I like to say, it is to-go time,” Naeve said. “Not just go time, it’s to-go time, so take everything to-go and we will get through this together.”

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