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Businesses told to expect major change in post-pandemic world

Imagine driving through a completely dark tunnel of unknown length with dim headlights not knowing what you will find when you exit.

This is an apt analogy to what is going on in many parts of the small-business community today, especially based on what a panel of Northampton County business leaders and owners said Thursday during a town hall that was punctuated by several technological glitches.

County Executive Lamont McClure was about 15 minutes late getting to the audio meeting because of an Internet security issue involving county government, which he said was resolved without the network’s being compromised.

In addition, several times during the 90-minute telephonic meeting, audio cut out on speakers in midsentence for several seconds to several minutes. Among those affected was moderator, Sally Handlon, owner of Handlon Business Resources in Bethlehem.

McClure said a $250,000, one-year loan fund is being established for countywide businesses with fewer than 100 employees. If successful, the amount could be expanded to $500,000, he said. Loans would be interest-free for between $3,000 and $15,000 each. Details can be gotten from Chris Hudock, director at Rising Tide Community Loan Fund through the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley at chudock@caclv.org.

Jason Hoy, co-owner of Tucker Silk Mill in Easton, advised those in business to prepare to “paint a new reality” and to communicate effectively with their employees.

Lou Allegra, a retired business executive volunteering with the Service Corps of Retired Executives of the Lehigh Valley, told business owners to define their future with a realistic, revised business plan and suggested that it could be a good time to restructure and re-imagine their business model.

Bruce Palmer, a CPA from Lower Nazareth Township, said it is critical for employers to “right size” in coming out of the pandemic to make sure it lines up with the number of customers being served.

Sarah Clark, owner and creative principal of Kudu Creative, in Easton said that businesses will need to assess working remotely, especially in case there is a resurgence in COVID-19 restrictions or even a new pandemic.

Noting that until about a month ago, the Small Business Administration was one of the “best-kept secrets in the U.S. government,” Michael Kane, deputy director of the SBA’s Eastern Pennsylvania district office in King of Prussia, said it is not that way any longer and acknowledged that the workload is “challenging.”

Kane said that the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan-forgiveness bill has been very popular among Pennsylvania business owners, who have made the state sixth in the nation in the number of loan applications and fifth in dollar amounts sought.

Attorney Rob Jacobs of Easton said many loans and agreements between banks and private parties are being modified because of current economic conditions. “If you are a lender or landlord, you may need to be patient,” he said. He also predicted that after this pandemic blows over there will be a lot of litigation.

Brett Smith of the Lehigh University Small Business Development Center said prospective loan applicants should get their important documents together so they can act quickly in applying for new loan programs.

The town hall was sponsored by the Northampton County Department of Community and Economic Development.