Our local businesses, like businesses around the world, have been hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdowns. But there isn’t time to grieve when every day that passes can mean the difference between keeping or losing your business. Instead, it’s time to be creative and find ways to inspire each other. It’s time to adopt changes to our business models so we can follow health directive protocols and still garner income. 

As we work to support our local businesses, the ongoing question for the West Center is, what changes will make the biggest difference and how can we help our local businesses make the changes they have to make to survive?

In order to assess what businesses need and what guidance to provide County Health, West Center set up 5 Business Roundtables. The industries selected were: Lodging, Wineries, Food/Agriculture, Retail, Restaurants. The sessions were designed to give the forum to the entrepreneurs to freely discuss their ideas, challenges, and options. Some general observations gathered from across all of the industries were: 

  • Business owners are resourceful individuals who understand their business model and their finances. If given accurate and clear directives, most will assess their needs and find ways to adhere to any guidelines and survive. But what is needed are clear guidelines coming from a single source.

  • It will take time for most industries to come back from shelter-in-place orders. The concern is that if a directive is received and then changed again, businesses may not be able to pivot to meet new directives quickly enough, and therefore fall farther behind. So advance notice is essential. 

  • The roundtables brought industries from across the County together. This fostered dialogue and a sharing of industry best practices. Coastal economies are driven by tourism making it more vulnerable to healthcare orders that prevent visitors. The inland economy has a more solid base of local support from which to draw revenue. 

  • All businesses asked for flexibility with implementation of orders along with an understanding of how compliance will be enforced. 

  • Good ideas without funds will be hard for businesses to administer i.e. sanitizing stations on streets outside venues, protective gear for employees, clear signage postings, increased working space needed due to social distancing, fewer customers allowed inside, etc.) States should consider ways to provide funds for changes to happen. 

Highlights from Industry Roundtables Report:

The Lodging group has reformed the MCLA and created a Slack channel for ongoing communication. They have developed protocols to ensure a phased reopening protects the community, the staff, as well as visitors.  

The Wineries group discussed how many wineries have pivoted to and been successful with online sales. The Wine Institute and the Mendocino Wine Growers are developing best practices and guidelines for  opening for wine sales only, requiring reservations for tasting, self-tasting experiences, and setting a limit on group sizes. 

FOOD_Ag acknowledged there has been limited representation of all the small farming operations. The non-profit, Food Hub, has seen tremendous growth, but they are a small staff and are in desperate need of warehouse space and distribution help in order to supply the region with fresh food. 

Retail had some great ideas, starting with providing sanitation stations outside each business, limiting in-store customers to maintain social distancing and the return of curbside pickup.

Many restaurants have pivoted with changes like: shorter hours, streamlined and take-out menus, reduced staff, curbside pickup, and delivery.

These roundtables only captured a snapshot of the business community in Mendocino County, but here are a few actions that could universally help many survive during the height of this pandemic: 

  1. Businesses need funds now. Federal funds are coming in too slowly and with complicated calculations that will not help our local businesses now. The County and the four cities should come together and do what it takes to create a no interest rate loan fund, quickly. Now is the time to work together along with the State to secure funding sources.

  2. Online commerce has great value and potential for increasing revenue streams for many businesses. E-Commerce adoption is only one tactic for an economic uptick. County and cities should consider planning directives based on understanding each area’s consumer base and create a task force by industry to secure best practices for growth during COVID.

  3. Finally, and most importantly, as a rural community, we should be at the table with State agencies to draft and implement protocols and enforcement plans that would have flexible but realistic protocols on health directives as it relates to small businesses. 

All of the small businesses in our County understand that State health directives must be followed. Regardless of the final decisions of the County Board of Supervisors or City Councils, in the end, every business owner would welcome swift, decisive, and clear actions to be communicated so that they could slow their loss of revenue and continue operations.