STAYING AFLOAT

Louisiana small businesses have a lot of questions as they struggle to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. And Jimmy Nguyen and the Louisiana Small Business Development Center at Nicholls State University are helping with the answers.

The SBDC is playing a crucial role in keeping local business afloat during the pandemic. Nguyen, assistant director and senior business consultant, says he works with clients every day to identify solutions to survive this societal shut down.

In some cases, it’s pivoting operations, such as the distillery that is now making hand sanitizer or the restaurants that have become caterers. Other times it’s about identifying available funding and grants, such as the Facebook Small Business Grant, the Verizon Small Business Recovery Fund or the Terrebonne Economic Development Authority Bayou Business Recovery grant. Nguyen is searching for those opportunities and alerting his clients.

“There are a multitude of programs available,” Nguyen says. “It’s about finding those that work for my clients and letting them know.”

The pandemic has dealt a blow to the economy and that will be tough to overcome for a lot of small businesses. There will be fewer customers and even fewer opportunities. The businesses that will survive this crisis, Nguyen says, are the ones willing to work hard, evolve and prepare for the future.

“This is going to make a lot of businesses better because they’re going to have to be at the top of their game,” he says. “A lot of them were hardly staying afloat, they weren’t trying to be competitive. They will go away. But the ones who will make it, they are spending their time honing their craft. They are giving their best effort and will come out a better business.”

“We want to be prepared for the next time something like this happens, that our businesses can act quickly.”

As the world slowed around him, Nguyen began reaching out to his clients and assuring them they were in this together.

“The first thing that came to my mind is what can I do to help,” he says. “I know that we’re in this together and that we’re going to come out of it stronger.

As state and local governments began placing restrictions on businesses, many of Nguyen’s clients were feeling overwhelmed. But he says he has started to sense a change in their mindset.

“They’re feeling optimistic,” he says. “They are seeing the programs available that can help keep them afloat and they feel like they will recover and that it’s going to get better.”

Nguyen is encouraging his businesses to use this time to prepare for the future. They can participate in the daily webinars published at LSBDC.org. He is working with many of his clients on developing a resiliency plan.

“We want to be prepared for the next time something like this happens, that our businesses can act quickly,” he says.

Nicholls and the Small Business Development Center are working closely to help the local economy recover. A new business incubator sponsored by the Office of Community Development will foster local entrepreneurial spirit. A pitch competition held by Nicholls, the SBDC and Chevron will encourage innovation. And a relief fund developed by the SBDC and the College of Business Administration will support sustainability.

“We’re prepared to help the community and we have the resources to pick people up,” Nguyen says. – Jacob Batte

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