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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Mar. 26, 202005:20 AM EST

The COVID-19 crisis: What small business can do now: Insight from experts

A Northeast Florida banker, CPA, commercial real estate broker, and SBA official on the path ahead.

Learn how to apply for the Disaster Loan Assistance Program

Nayana Sen | North Florida District Office Spokesperson | U.S. Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration issued a disaster declaration March 18, activating low-interest loans for business owners statewide to deal with the loss of revenue from the response to the coronavirus.

SBA North Florida District Office spokesperson Nayana Sen said the administration will begin weekly conference calls March 26 to help business owners apply for the Disaster Loan Assistance Program.

Nayana Sen

Sen said the conference calls are free to business owners and will be from 10-11 a.m. and 3-4 p.m. Thursdays. For access, visit Disaster loan applications are at  The assistance is retroactive to Jan. 31, and all counties in Florida qualify.

Businesses, agricultural cooperatives and nonprofits without credit available elsewhere can apply.


• Businesses must have an acceptable credit history and show the ability to repay.

• Collateral is required for loans more than $25,000. Real estate is accepted as collateral.

Loan terms:

• 3.75% interest rate

• 2.75% for nonprofits

• Maximum 30-year term

• $2 million borrow limit 

SBA guidelines say if a business is a “major source of employment,” the administration has the authority to waive the $2 million statutory limit. The language did not define that.

Sen said the webinars will include local SBA partners to provide industry-specific advice for responding to COVID-19. 

Business owners will have access to the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida, the Jacksonville Women’s Business Center and SCORE Jacksonville, a  mentorship program for business startups.

Sen said the SBA also is deferring payments on existing disaster loans through Dec. 31.

She added the speed at which the aid is delivered can depend on the business owner.

“Processing time is 15 to 30 days,” she said. “The more information they have on hand and quicker they provide information, the more quickly they get their loan.” 

Mike Mendenhall

Extending a lease is a way to get past revenue slump

Gary Montour | Senior Vice President | Colliers International Northeast Florida

 Gary Montour, senior vice president with Colliers International Northeast Florida, advises both small business landlords and tenants dealing with the loss of revenue from the coronavirus.

Montour said that until now, most force majeure — “overwhelming power” or “act of God” — clauses didn’t include pandemics.

The documents of lenders, insurance companies, landlords and tenants now will be evaluated, and in some cases modified, to include a pandemics clause.

Gary Montour

“Tenants need to tell their landlords what’s going on with their business and ask for what they need,” Montour said.

A tenant might be able to extend a lease. If a tenant asked for three months of free rent, a landlord could add three months to the end of the lease term, he said.

Small business tenants should start gathering information about sales from the past year and the past quarter, and compare those to how they look now that the business has reduced operations or closed because of the coronavirus. 

“Outline why you need support for a specific time frame, say two to three months. Figure out what you can do — even if it’s partial or half rent — to show that you’re doing what you can,” he said.

The small business tenant should put the information in writing and note if it is applying for relief from the government.

“I’d wait out the next 15 days to see what the president does,” Montour said March 24.

“Rent’s not typically due until the first or 10th. Evaluate where things are going,” he said.

If the tenant is part of a national chain, a bailout could be coming.

“The landlord will consider how long you’ve been there,” Montour said.

“If you’re a newer tenant and have already asked for rent reductions, your request may be considered differently than someone who’s been with a landlord for a long time and just needs a little help.”

Scott Sailer

Interruption insurance won’t cover virus impact

Vicky Zelen | President | Zelen Risk Management

For small businesses with lost income, business interruption insurance may not be able to help, said Vicky Zelen, president of Zelen Risk Solutions. 

Vicky Zelen

Zelen’s company primarily covers small businesses including restaurants, law offices, retailers, engineering firms and contractors. She said many clients called the past week asking if their income loss can be covered under their business interruption policy.

“Typically they have to have physical damage to the building or inside the building or the personal property they owned or stock they’re selling,” she said. “You can’t just have a loss of business income when there’s no damage to the building itself.”

Worker’s compensation policies likely will cover medical employees if they catch the virus. For other employees, it’s hard to prove where they may have caught it. 

Some clients called to say they can’t afford their policies. Zelen’s advice is to cancel it and enroll when the company’s finances stabilize.

For those renewing their policies, Zelen said it’s best to be conservative when stating the company’s expected revenue for the year so businesses don’t overpay on their policy if their sales are lower than expected. 

“Not everything is covered under the insurance policy,” she said. “Some of it is business risk.”

Katie Garwood

Banks will work to keep customers’ business

Bennett Brown | Market President | The Heritage Bank

The Heritage Bank Market President Bennett Brown is a Jacksonville community banker of more than 40 years.

Heritage Bank lends to individuals, businesses and professionals.

Bennett Brown

“The fundamental principle of the community bank model of banking is based on long-term relationships built on a mutual trust,” Brown said.

“When an event happens that affects the community, the response is how can we help them through this. This virus pandemic is something we have not faced before, but the underlying principles remain the same,” he said.

“We will work with each customer and determine the best solutions to keep them in business.”

Brown said the government will offer programs through the banks to help small business, “and we will participate with them.”

Brown said a community bank is as successful as its customers. “So we will work to help them survive and be successful. We are their banker in good times and bad times,” he said.

Because each customer is affected differently, the bank customizes plans.

“Our team in Jacksonville has a 30-plus-year history of being customer-focused. With God’s help we will get through this.”

Karen Brune Mathis

Businesses should work ahead on finances

Melissa Dietz | CPA | Victory Accounting & Tax Inc.

CPA Melissa Dietz, owner of Victory Accounting & Tax Inc., has heard so many stories already.

Melissa Dietz

“My restaurant owners have had to let more than half of their staff go until further notice. Event planners are hurting as social distancing is the new normal,” she said.

“On the plus side, I’ve heard from my tutoring companies who are working with the public school system in helping teach students online,” she said.

Dietz said that in a time of confusion, fear and uncertainty, there also is a coming-together and innovative ideas.

Victory Accounting & Tax works specifically with small business. Dietz also is president of Women Business Owners of North Florida and said many members are offering discounted services to each other, such as home health care, IT, accounting and much more.

“When it seems like there may be no hope, there always is,” Dietz said.

“We are all still waiting to see what additional help the new stimulus deal the government is working on to assist small businesses to pay employees and keep themselves afloat.”

To help now and going forward, she urges small business owners:

• Don’t get too leveraged.

• Keep a savings account – even for your business.

• A line of credit is good to have for short-term needs.

• Keep bookkeeping up to date.

• Reconcile your bank statement monthly.

• Prepare a cash flow analysis.

• Tweak the budget – both in the income and expense areas.

• Contact your accountant for updates.

Karen Brune Mathis






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