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Nevada Small Businesses Face Financial Challenges, Uncertainty In Reopening

Chris Smith/Desert Companion

A sign outside a downtown Las Vegas restaurant March 23, 2020, shortly after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered non-essential businesses to close.

Along with Las Vegas mega-resorts, small businesses are reopening in Nevada.

But they're heading into the recovery with some huge challenges. A recent survey of small businesses nationwide found that more than half had taken on new debt during the pandemic. That same report said 20 percent had racked up more than $100,000 in debt. 

And then, there is the recent rise in COVID-19 cases. So far, Nevada officials say that's due to more testing, but what if hospitalizations spike, triggering another business shutdown?

It is not surprising that a quarter of small businesses surveyed said they would consider closing their doors for good. 

Senator Jacky Rosen, D-NV., told KNPR's State of Nevada that Congress is working on a number of things to help small businesses survive the fallout of the coronavirus-related shutdown.

“I’m hoping that we’re going to be passing more relief this summer for small businesses or extensions of some of the things that we’re doing. Lots of ideas have been brought up to us,” she said.

She said lawmakers have already extended the period that employers have to rehire workers and get forgiveness for the Paycheck Protection Program. They now have 24 weeks instead of eight weeks after loan disbursement.

Rosen is also asking the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration to streamline and simplify the process to apply for loan forgiveness.

And she is working on removing a cap on the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which currently tops out at $150,000.

"The intent was to allow people to get their full amount of money," she said. "They put a cap on it. We want them to remove that, because in some cases, depending on the size of the business... that $150,000 may not be enough for you to keep multiple small locations open." 

One of the emergency programs that Congress is now considering changing is the supplemental $600 in unemployment insurance payments. Some lawmakers have argued that people are not returning to work because they're making more money on unemployment than they would working.

Rosen explained that when Congress first set up that program they did not know how big of a problem the outbreak was going to be, and they wanted to get money to workers quickly.

“Now that we are revisiting it, I think that people are talking about that we may have to modify that to give people a bonus to go back to work. That maybe we have to do some work-share,” she said.

She said there are a lot of conversations happening about how to get to a full recovery.

“I do believe that people want to go back to work," the senator said, "Businesses need them, but all businesses are not opening at the same pace.”

Luis Olivera knows very well how difficult it is to navigate the shutdown and reopening. He owns Sambalatte coffee shops in Las Vegas.

He said his shop at Boca Park near Summerlin is open but only getting about half its normal revenue. 

"It has been very difficult and very, 'What am I going to do to stay alive, to survive?' Have to keep reinventing. I'll call this an endless transformation of business that small business has to adjust," he said.

Olivera said in the first few weeks of the shutdown his head was spinning about how he was going stay alive, but he was able to get the PPP loan from the Small Business Administration, which helped tremendously.

He also received a grant from the city of Las Vegas to pay staff and buy personal protective equipment for employees.

"I hope by the end of the summer things get normalized," he said, "People talk about maybe after the election. I don't know what's going to happen, but I hope by the beginning of the year because this year, financially, is pretty much shot for everybody."

Matt Richards is the president and CEO of Advanstaff, which provides human resources services to hundreds of businesses around the Las Vegas Valley.

When the shutdown first started, he said, 40 percent of the employees his company works with filed for unemployment. That has changed and employers are rehiring, but some sectors are still struggling.

"Our hospitality groups and restaurants, they're still feeling it, and it's going to be a hard road for them," he said. "That PPP money is really, really helping and has served as a huge lifeline for these groups."

When the shutdown order was first issued, Richards' team worked to make sure employees were getting the insurance help they needed and that employers were getting help filing applications for federal loan programs.

Now, they're focused on applying for loan forgiveness.  

Richards admits that employers are concerned about another wave of the virus hitting the state.

"But business has to go on," he said, "If they take control of their environment as the CDC has outlined, then you can do everything you possibly can with wearing the masks, controlling the flow of the people, making sure that your employees are not sick... all those things are massive preventive measures to protecting your employees and your customers."

Richard said there is no way to eliminate this virus, but we can protect ourselves and the most vulnerable people.

Randi Thompson is the Nevada state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

She said she and her group's members are concerned about a resurgence of cases, but she believes businesses can operate safely.

"I think the governor on up to the president and everybody in between is understanding that we can operate safely and keep this economy going and lower the spike," she said.

Thompson said the shutdown order was put in place to stop the health care system from being overwhelmed, and Nevada has done that. She believes the state needs to pay attention, and people should take the outbreak seriously, but "we also need to be able to live our lives."

Shaundell Newsome is a local small business owner and co-chair of Small Business for America’s Future. 

A recent survey by his group found that the number of small businesses open at the beginning of June had declined 19 percent since the beginning of the year.

Newsome said there were a number of factors behind the closures, including the fact that Nevada is a young small business community with limited access to capital.

"In the last recession we got no relief, no support, no help at all," Newsome said. "This time people were actually looking for that relief, looking for that support."

But, he said, some of those relief programs went to the wrong types of small businesses.

"By SBA standards, a small business is up to 500 employees. What we know in this state... the people who employ the most are the small businesses that have less than 100 employees," he said, "Once again, this country sometimes fails to realize that the small mom and pops...are the ones that actually employ the people."

Sen. Jacky Rosen​​​​, D-NV.; Randi Thompson, Nevada State Director, National Federation of Independent Businesses; Luiz Olivera, owner, Sambalatte; Matt Richards, president and CEO, Advanstaff;  Shaundell Newsome, co-chair of Small Business for America’s Future

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.