Lovell and Big Horn County are bouncing back from the shutdowns required due to the COVID-19 crisis, according to Lovell Inc. Director Stormy Jameson.
A large part of the resurgence has been the financial relief available from the state and federal government, allowing hard-hit local businesses to remain viable as the economy slowed.
The largest boon, according to Jameson, has been the Business Interruption Stipend Program, launched by the Wyoming Business Council with federal CARES Act monies designated by the Wyoming Legislature for small business relief.
“That’s been the biggest push, financial support,” Jameson said. “It started out with PPP loans through the banks where local businesses got to pay their employees, and then it’s stemmed from the business council stipend program. That has been the most successful.”
Wyoming businesses with
50 or fewer employees have been able to apply for up to $50,000 of $50 million made available from the federal CARES Act. In the first three weeks into the launch, more than 3,400 Wyoming small businesses have applied for
relief, with total requests topping $87 million statewide and nearly $35 million paid out as of June 26.
Big Horn County has requested $943,524, according to the council and businesses have been granted $696,920. So far 51 applications have been received from Big Horn County.
A second phase opening up grants to businesses of 100 employees or fewer began July 1.
The reason the Business Interruption program has been so successful, Jameson said, is due to the fact that it has been made so widely available to nearly every business in Big Horn County.
A previous federal program, the Paycheck Protection Program was the initial lifeline for the community. Jameson praised local banks for making sure the program was accessible to those who needed it.
“Joseph Shumway, Mike Jones, Lance (Stebner), those guys did such an excellent job (getting it up)” Jameson said. “I know they were busy working long hard hours to help our local businesses get those loans. They did the majority of that haul and making sure each business had what they needed.”
The program wasn’t available to every business in North Big Horn County though, Jameson said, and those who fell through the cracks had an uniquely difficult time persevering through the COVID shutdown.
Maneline Hair, Nail & Body Design Salon, for example, didn’t have the payroll records necessary to apply for the PPP program because they operate as an individual contractor to their employees, who pay booth fees.
“Those guys slipped through because they don’t pay themselves payroll,” Jameson said. “If they do 20 haircuts a month or 100 haircuts a month, that’s how much money they make.”
The pain was doubled due to cosmetic businesses having to be entirely shutdown for an extended period.
That dilemna also fell on Kurt’s Cuts, where Kurt Wheeler employs himself and therefore stood unqualified, according to Jameson.
The Pit, a gym in Cowley, is another example of a business that was closed down and left behind. Owner Angie Spann is a prime example of the benefit the Wyoming Business Council programs are bringing to the community.
“Angie Spann is a good friend of mine, and we were sitting at a baseball game – her son plays on a team that my husband coaches — and that was another business that was closed down, as were all gyms and fitness centers. She said no, that she had a friend who said it was too much work and she had to jump through too many hoops, so it wasn’t completely worth doing,” Jameson recalled. “She applied and she got $7,000. She didn’t know about it. It was an easy process.”
There are still some in the community who do not know about the Business Interruption Stipend Program or just feel uneasy about the application. That is where Lovell Inc. is spending much of its efforts nowadays, Jameson said, being a source of education and support for businesses who need it.
It’s a change from their primary role before, which often was helping new businesses establish themselves, but that is beginning to come back, too, Jameson said.
While unable to release the details of the possible new businesses she has talked with, Jameson said the local entrepreneurs that have come forward are creating businesses that directly address service gaps within Lovell that were revealed by COVID-19.
The greenhouse project is also seeing a resurgence, with investors again showing interest. That project has gained a new importance, as well, according to Jameson.
“This crisis has shown us the importance of having an independent source of food and profit within this community,” she said.
Finally, Mustang Days was a huge success for the community, Jameson said. The large turnout showed that the people of Lovell are willing and eager to participate with Lovell commerce, Jameson said.
“It’s such a good sign,” Jameson said. “I think it’s going to mean huge things going forward.”
By Ryan Fitzmaurice