As the economic fallout from the coronavirus continues across the globe, many El Paso business owners are worried about access to capital and cash flow.
With the city’s “stay home, work safe” order in place without an end date, businesses that rely on customer traffic and cash sales are cratering. U.S. unemployment claims skyrocketed to more than 3.2 million in one week.
Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said so far 22 of the group’s member businesses have said they will not be able to reopen after all this.
“This has made businesses uncomfortable, concerned for the future and worried for the employees they’ve got,” Ramos-Davidson said. “They’ve got to have healthy employees but also a business they can come back to.”
She said she’s hearing from members in the restaurant and service industries that are being hit especially hard, including bars, restaurants, salons, pet groomers and retail stores. Though some restaurants are open for drive-thru and pickup options, many others have had to close completely.
“A customer doesn’t come in, there goes the cash flow immediately,” Ramos-Davidson said. “The owner of the salon, if they’re renting space, then the owner of the shop takes a hit when he can’t pay his rent.”
Ramos-Davidson added that it’s not just new businesses that are hurting – some older institutions are feeling it, too. She also said many businesses have had to furlough workers, change their hours and scale back.
She added that some places are having to rethink their five-year and long-term plans to adjust for losses they’re facing.
“It’s difficult to recapitalize and get back into business once you’ve expended everything you’ve got, if you’ve exceeded all lines of credit,” Ramos-Davidson said. “We’re trying to get businesses ahead of the curve and stop some of the hurt.”
The Hispanic Chamber sent out a survey last week that asked member businesses about their experiences related to the COVID-19 closures and rules.
“One of the questions is pretty direct: If you had a one-on-one with the mayor, what would you tell him?” Ramos-Davidson said.
The Hispanic Chamber is also offering an array of online services related to COVID-19 for both members and non-members. The chamber is holding weekly “Cash, Coins and Conversations” webinars, as well as other virtual resources. More can be found at ephcc.org.
“Our role is helping them navigate through all that info. Let us be the tap on that shoe to navigate that,” Ramos-Davidson said.
The Small Business Development Center, which operates out of El Paso Community College, is also available to businesses for resources in navigating this economy. Joe Ferguson, director of the center, said he’s also hearing from businesses about being cash-strapped and worried about cash flow.
“A lot of business owners are worried right now because they feel like they don’t have enough cash to sustain themselves,” Ferguson said. “It seems to be a majority of the calls we have.”
The SBDC is one of 1,000 centers in the U.S. funded in part by the Small Business Administration. The center provides resources like business advising and research. More information can be found at elpasosbdc.net.
Ferguson said the long-term effects of this situation could be devastating for some businesses.
“Many businesses, their cash flow does not allow them to operate for more than a month without having to close,” Ferguson said. “My concern is that some of these people who have taken on debt may not be able to sustain themselves and repay that.”
There are a few industries in El Paso that have not been hit as hard by the city and county’s stay-at-home order. Essential businesses – those that can stay open – include grocery stores, pharmacies and hardware stores. Construction projects can continue. The list of essential business is long and can be found in the order at epstrong.org/health-orders.php.
Adam Pacheco, executive director of the El Paso Association of Contractors, said he’s hearing from members that it’s work as usual.
“It’s something we’ve never really experienced and don’t know what the outcome is going to be. As far as bond projects, work keeps going on,” Pacheco said “We’re hoping there won’t be any ripple effect as far as payments.”
He added that the group might look into creating or contributing to a fund that would support those businesses and workers that have been hit hard.
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