By David Knox
Gov. Bill Lee is a small businessman, and he knows how hard the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting “safe at home” edict is on businesses that have been forced to close. In particular, he knows how badly the tourism industry has been damaged.
“The tourism industry has been especially hard hit,” the Tennessee governor said Thursday in a teleconference. “Hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs, businesses shutting down. When Gaylord Opryland Hotel closes entirely, you get a pretty good taste of what tourism is doing in our state, particularly those rural tourism areas that don’t have the great influx of people. So it’s a devastating impact that this COVID-19 has had, particularly on those businesses.”
Businesses on the Lynchburg Historic Square began closing when Jack Daniel’s stopped its tours. The remaining businesses – virtually all of them – shut down after the governor’s safe at home order.
Lee said he wanted to directly address business owners because they “are bearing the brunt of these safe at home orders because their businesses are mandated to be shut down and that’s an economically devastating experience for a business. But I can tell you when we get through this thing I am committed … to work alongside small businesses to walk them though the process of rebuilding, to give them access to resources that can help them rebuild.”
The governor said while Small Business Administration loans are available – the Economic Injury Disaster Loans that were approved last month — he knows the process is very slow. Beginning Friday, Lee said small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 crisis became eligible to apply for loan assistance through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s new Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). He said the stimulus and relief package that was signed into law by President Trump is very promising in what it provides.
“Those details will be given by the federal government over the next two weeks,” Lee said. “As soon as they get it in place for us – and we are certainly pressing Washington for that — those are the kinds of relief that will be available for small businesses by way of loans that turn to grants.
“In the short term, it’s incredibly painful for small businesses. (The safe at home mandate) is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve made. But small businesses need to know I understand them, I hear them. We will do everything we can do to work alongside them and help them.”