Assistance Package To Aid OKC Businesses
The Oklahoma City Council approved a $5.5 million relief package for small businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses how the city will implement the plan, as well as why officials say this amount of money likely won't be enough.
Drew Hutchinson: This is the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Drew Hutchinson. Joining me by phone again this week is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. Russell, how are you and your staff holding up?
Russell Ray: We’re hanging in there. We’re doing the best we can, and we’re chugging right along.
Hutchinson: Glad to hear it. So this week, we’re discussing a story by Journal Record reporter Janis Francis-Smith. She wrote that beginning on April 6, small businesses in Oklahoma City affected by revenue losses from COVID-19 may be able to get financial assistance through a $5.5 million fund approved by the Oklahoma City Council last week. The measure comes after an order by Gov. Kevin Stitt that “non-essential” businesses must close for the time being.
Ray: That’s right. The fund is called the Oklahoma City Small Business Continuity Fund. It’s a joint effort between the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.Council members unanimously approved the program, which will provide incentive payments, grants, loans and technical assistance to businesses with 50 or fewer employees that have lost at least half of their revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hutchinson: Specifically, the program designates $3 million in loans for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. It offers 10-year no-interest loans of up to $100,000. Another $1.5 million would be offered as cash incentives to reimburse businesses with fewer than 15 full-time workers for up to $10,000 in payroll expenses.
Ray: That’s right. Independent contractors and sole proprietors are also eligible to apply for assistance, as are businesses that hire independent contractors. Decisions regarding eligibility will be made on a case-by-case basis. The City Council will receive regular reports on how the program is progressing, and businesses that are turned down for assistance will be informed as to why they were turned down.
Hutchinson: So with this measure, one question that comes to mind is if $5.5 million is enough money to help small businesses in a relatively large city like Oklahoma City.
Ray: Well Cathy O’Connor, the president of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, said the funding won’t be enough to solve the issues businesses in OKC are facing. But she said it will have enough of an impact to make a difference for some businesses in Oklahoma City that need help the most.
Hutchinson: My next question would be, How does the city plan to implement this assistance package? What are the logistics?
Ray: Well city manager Craig Freeman is establishing a committee to evaluate applications and disburse the funds to businesses. The committee will likely include O’Connor, Oklahoma City Finance Director Brent Bryant and city Economic Development Program Manager Joanna McSpadden, as well as someone with experience in the banking or finance industry. Of the 5.5 million, about $50,000 will be used to pay for administrative costs. That includes the development of the online application portal, staff time and marketing expenses.
Hutchinson: Twenty-five percent of the funds made available through this program are targeted to business in low-to-moderate census tracts. But some City Council members worried that the latest data might be outdated, meaning areas that were then classified as low-income might be more affluent now. But Oklahoma City Alliance for Economic Development President Cathy O’Connor, who we mentioned earlier, said officials should continue to rely on that census data when distributing the funds.
Ray: Yes. O’Connor said she didn’t think there was a need to find a third party to administer the program. Such a move, she said, could expose the program to a lot of criticism. She also said there would probably be some criticism anyway because there won’t be enough money for everyone who actually applies for assistance.
Hutchinson: Russell, I want to thank you for your time today.
Ray: My pleasure, Drew. Thank you.
Hutchinson: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @KGOUnews. The story we discussed today is available on JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. While you’re there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporters. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Drew Hutchinson.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.