As small businesses scramble to keep their doors open and stay financially viable during the pandemic, Humboldt State’s Northern California Small Business Development Center has remained a critical resource for regional businesses and nonprofit organizations that desperately need access to grant and loan programs to survive.
“Across our 20 centers in the state, we’ve seen demand increase from two to six times the normal business activity,” says Northern California Regional Director Kristin Johnson, who oversees the country’s fifth-largest SBDC network.
Established in 2006, Norcal SBDC serves 36 Northern California counties, supporting nearly 45,000 small businesses from Aptos near Santa Cruz to Crescent City. In addition to offering one-on-one business consulting, the nonprofit is a resource for accurate and timely information about local, state and federal programs.
By extending consulting and training through remote technologies, Norcal SBDC has helped thousands of clients since the Small Business Association declared an economic crisis on March 9. Norcal SBDC has answered 35,000 calls and emails about loan activity and have supported approximately 38,000 unique clients. More than 6,000 people have attended SBDC group training sessions, and SBDC staff have hosted more than 11,000 one-on-one video conference counseling sessions with businesses.
“It is pretty amazing how our staff has been able to serve the masses from our homes, all through Zoom and cell phones,” says Johnson. “Even though we aren’t sitting next to each other, the passion to serve our community has brought us closer together as a team.”
To respond to client demand, Norcal SBDC has launched a COVID-19 hotline, a COVID-19 website (www.asksbdc.com), and set up a call center, where businesses can receive immediate financial assistance from qualified consultants.
“It’s heart wrenching to hear each business owner’s story,” says Johnson. “People have put their entire lives into their companies. No one could have expected the economic devastation that this pandemic is causing. When we can assist an entrepreneur with securing a loan or help them maintain their workforce, it is very rewarding.”