Local economies have been heavily disrupted by COVID-19. By late March in Minnesota, all non-essential businesses closed in response to Governor Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order. Although many businesses have since reopened, the shock to local economies is ongoing.
While there is no playbook for responding to an economic disruption of this scale, local governments are taking steps to support community businesses during the crisis.
Local governments are closely linked — and connected to — the small business community. Despite facing increasingly constrained resources themselves, many have taken meaningful and creative steps to support local businesses.
Business support strategies used in four Minnesota communities
Four communities across Minnesota — both urban and rural — are featured in these case studies that describe local responses to the economic impacts of COVID-19. Read their stories:
The case studies describe wide-ranging strategies to support businesses. While the approach of cities and community studies varied, they fall within the following six categories.
The amount of information about business resources is dizzying. Many cities and counties took it upon themselves to assemble and host the most relevant information on their websites, advertising the information to the local business community. Others organized group calls with business owners to help get information out and encourage local businesses to learn from each other.
Cities and counties offered financial support—grants or forgivable loans—to businesses that were hit hard by the pandemic. The goal was to prevent business failure and support them during the crisis. These programs were intended to augment the U.S. Small Business Association’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) grants, as well as other sources of financial support.
Not all businesses are equally prepared to pursue available resources or reposition themselves for reopening. Technical assistance can help business owners organize their paperwork before submitting a loan or grant application. Technical assistance can also help businesses adapt their business model and customer communications to market and deliver goods and services in new ways during the pandemic.
When a business is closed or financially strained, the normal procedural and financial burdens of staying compliant with local government requirements can be particularly onerous. Cities and counties have adopted a range of modifications for meeting these requirements, including waiving or delaying fees and fines, and easing license renewal requirements.
Since community members want to see local businesses survive, they often respond well to organized efforts to encourage shopping locally. Cities have initiated and supported these campaigns in collaboration with local businesses and organizations, such as chambers of commerce.
As restaurants reopened, they were required to meet social distancing guidelines, which meant significantly limiting the number of customers dining inside. To make room for more customers while still following new spacing requirements, many restaurants expanded their outdoor seating options.
Cities helped make this possible by loosening regulations restricting restaurants from expanding into parking areas or public sidewalks. Some communities also supported local fitness businesses and yoga studios by allowing them to utilize local parks for outdoor exercise classes.
Special thanks to Annie Deckert, executive director, Greater Fergus Falls; Terri Heggie, executive director, Crookston Chamber of Commerce; Meg Beekman, community development director, City of Brooklyn Center; and Kristin Guild, deputy director, planning and economic development, City of St. Paul, for their contributions to this project.
Reviewed in 2020