Local business owners seeking guidance to tap into pandemic relief funds at both local and federal levels tuned in to a webinar Monday, April 13 hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Superior Small Business Development Center.

Taylor Pedersen, president and CEO of Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce, said these are unprecedented times. Nearly 90% of Douglas County businesses are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Gov. Tony Evers’ Safer at Home order.

“This is a challenge for every kind of business,” Pedersen said.

He offered some practical advice, like encouraging business owners to make sure any signs they post are legible from vehicles.

“I think people are trying to isolate as much as possible even though they might want to get out, they might want to support you,” he said.

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Pedersen warned that scammers are on the prowl.

“Make sure that you’re aware of what you’re clicking on and make sure you’re aware of phone calls you might be getting,” he said. “The chamber world is seeing significant increase in ransomware, in computer viruses and there’s a lot of SBA scams right now. Just be very aware of what you’re answering.”

The Chamber is providing resources to the community, such as lists of open businesses, on its website under the COVID-19 updates tab. Any business can call to be added to the list.

“We are not limiting it to members during this time,” Pedersen said. “Let us help you during this time. We’re promoting businesses of all kinds.”

Jim Caesar with the Development Center said business assistance loans of up to $5,000 are available to local businesses. An application is available on the Development Center website.

Links to federal assistance for businesses are available through the Small Business Development Center website. Andy Donahue, director of Small Business Development Center at UWS, discussed the Payroll Protection Program.

“If you haven’t applied for it and you are interested, my recommendation would be talk to your lender as soon as possible,” Donahue said.

Superior planning and economic development director Jason Serck discussed an economic relief program that will be presented to the City Council next week or in early May. Unveiled as part of a larger Superior Coronavirus Relief Package by Serck and Mayor Jim Paine Friday, April 16, the proposal would re-allocate $80,000 from the Superior Small Business Grant Program to an emergency grant program for small businesses.

Serck said the program would provide a small amount of funding for for-profit, brick and mortar businesses with 25 employees or less to help them pay rent, mortgage or utility payments for a month or two.

Keeping connected is crucial.

“We’re seeing updates to these different types of funding and relief packages almost daily,” Pedersen said. “If you don’t qualify today, you might actually qualify tomorrow. Check those resources.”

And apply as soon as possible, Donahue said, as funding sources are limited and wait times can be long.

Customers can lend a hand, too. Superior Business Improvement District Executive Director Lindsey Jacobson encouraged people to support local businesses now by purchasing gift cards to places they want to visit after restrictions are lifted.

The business leaders can be reached via email at adonaue@uwsuper.edu, jm@wegrowbiz.org, serckj@ci.superior.wi.us, taylor.pedersen@superiorchamber.org and jacobsonl@superiorbid.com.