VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — COVID-19 sent the American economy spiraling into a recession, and many local businesses are making sacrifices to pay their bills.
The past few months have been especially painful for thousands of Virginians who were laid off or furloughed from work, but not all sectors of the economy are bruised.
In fact, the pandemic is providing an opportunity to recruit new businesses to Virginia Beach, according to one top city official.
RECRUITING NEW WORKERS
Taylor Adams knows how to sell Virginia Beach.
As director of the city's Economic Development, he's tasked with keeping jobs here while also recruiting new ones.
"If a city is not growing, if a community is not growing, it is dying," Adams said.
Adams sees an opportunity in the COVID-19 crisis to help Virginia Beach grow through the creation of new jobs. As some companies may look to downsize or escape the costs of larger cities, he thinks he can sell them on the idea of Virginia Beach.
“This pandemic has put us in a place where people are getting to choose through telework, particularly in professional capacities, to pick the place that allows them to be where they want to be," Adams said. “We are hearing that this conversation is going on, particularly in those more dense areas north and east of us right now."
Adams is now working to reach that audience. In late July, the City of Virginia Beach purchased a full-page national advertisement in the Wall Street Journal reading “Virginia Beach is open for business.”
The ad made a pitch to business owners exploring new locations. It touted recent success with recruiting companies to either expand current operations in Virginia Beach or relocate to the coastal city.
With many American employees working from home, Adams believes more businesses could be enticed by more affordable and desirable cities like Virginia Beach.
“The challenge for us is, I compete with every city of our size and larger, in some cases a little smaller, in America for these opportunities,” Adams said.
At the same time, Adams said his office is also focused on helping some of the small businesses hurt by the pandemic.
The city's pre-pandemic unemployment rate was 2.4 percent in April 2019. But once the world was introduced to the novel coronavirus, unemployment claims soared alongside cases.
In April 2020, Virginia Beach recorded a record 12.2 percent unemployment rate as more than 20,000 workers filed unemployment claims. It recovered a bit to 8.5 percent in June but thousands of local workers are still out of a job as summer winds down.
The shutdowns from the pandemic dealt especially crushing blows to the hospitality and tourism industries.
“We hear loud and clear from our business owners in those sectors that they are really struggling to hang on right now," Adams said. “Right now we’re in a place though where the most important thing I can do is retain the jobs we already have and retaining the businesses we already have."
SMALL BUSINESS RELIEF
Virginia Beach is helping small business owners where it can.
City Council allocated $1.5 million in emergency grants through the long-standing “Economic Development Investment Program."
In just two weeks, almost 500 struggling business owners applied for the discretionary grant. City officials reviewed those applications and wrote an average check of $6,913 to the 200 businesses that qualified for the assistance.
Adams says demand was so high that the City set aside another $1 million in grants for small business aid.
Those businesses in exchange must keep all their employees for the time being.
“Our goal is to provide as much assistance as we possibly can as it relates to those businesses impacted by this pandemic,” Adams said.
More help is on the way soon for small businesses with money from the CARES Act. That aid is helping Adams stay optimistic about the city's future. After all, according to his motto: if a city is not growing, it is dying.
“I don’t want to discount the fact that we’ve lost jobs, we certainly have, but to be in a place where we’re seeing meaningful expansion and location of business in our community is very exciting," Adams said.
Virginia Beach is accepting applications through September 11 for small businesses seeking federal aid from the CARES Act.