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Sharing strategies for rural businesses

When the coronavirus outbreak forced shutdowns throughout Ohio, OSU Extension’s community development teams went to work to help businesses throughout the state endure what was to come.

In Noble County – located in Ohio’s southeast, rural Appalachian region – where 90% of the businesses are small, those on Extension’s community development team began with a business survey to determine what the economic impact might look like.

“We sent it out early to see what people were thinking, what they were feeling, how long owners thought their businesses could stay open,” said Gwynn Stewart, the local community development educator. “It gave us information on a three-to-five month window to what resources and support we needed to be giving our business owners. It also let people know we’re here for them.”

Those in community development worked with local county commissioners, the chamber of commerce, jobs and family services and regional workforce development as an economic mitigation and recovery group.

That team has produced resources for its business community. Members have held virtual lunch and learns and produced educational documents for the Noble County webpage and Extension’s own Noble County website and social media.

Those educational materials offer help with everything from loans and financing to payroll protection.

“We’re putting out any information that will help them weather the storm,” Stewart said. “And if we hear a business needs something to stay open, we work with them to make sure they have what they need.”

The team works closely with health officials in the area to ensure accurate state and local updates and information is disseminated throughout the community. Though Noble County hasn’t had a lot of COVID-19 cases, it does have a correctional facility that can be at high risk.

 “We’ve been watching and monitoring that closely, and they’ve had preparation plans in place,” Stewart said. “We’re a small county with limited resources, so we try to mobilize and support people.”

That collaboration also extends to working with local farmer’s markets to re-open, helping the 4-H program to stay active and assisting those with limited Wi-Fi to find area hotspots for teleworking or home schooling.

“We’ve tried to keep our ears to the ground, listen and then reach out as best we can to make sure people have what they need,” Stewart said.

Noble OSU Extension also administers the small business development fund locally as well. One thing it was able to do recently for a local coffee shop owner was offer a four-month deferral on loan payments in this program to assist the shop as they relocated the coffee shop into their gym because both businesses were impacted.

Stewart is also part of the State Community Development team for business retention and expansion.

“We are busy coordinating updates to the program and thinking of how to deploy it post-COVID to assist communities in supporting businesses, especially small business,” Stewart said.

In addition to COVID-19 related needs, Noble County’s community development program continues the day-to-day work of representing the county as the local economic development organization.

During the stay-at-home order, they continue working with a vineyard on a potential equipment grant to create a winery, seeking funding for a residential water expansion and regional interconnect, asset mapping the county’s water and sewer resources, promoting the newly approved Appalachian Byway of Ohio and finalizing a grant for technical assistance to engineer a plan for enhancement of broadband – noted as the “least connected” in Ohio by a recent Connected Nation-Ohio study.

The broadband needs during COVID-19 have certainly been a concern to parents working with children on schoolwork and teleworking as well.

Published: June 3, 2020

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