NORFOLK, Va. - The administrator of the Small Business Administration, Isabella Guzman, met with business owners in Norfolk and Portsmouth on Tuesday afternoon.
Her first stop was at Torch Bistro in Norfolk, where she heard from the restaurant's owner about how he was able to use programs from the SBA to help stay afloat during the pandemic.
"If the SBA and government hadn't come up with a lot of that stuff, I'm not sure we'd be open today. That stuff was a saving grace for us and a lot of small businesses," said Chris Johnson, who's part of an ownership group that has three restaurants in Norfolk, including Torch.
Johnson estimates revenue was down more than $1.5 million at the restaurants during the pandemic. The programs helped recoup 70-80% of that.
One of the programs Johnson used, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, is ending, but Guzman says other low interest loans are available to businesses that still need help.
"Businesses continue to need support. They're still struggling to try and pivot and adapt in this new marketplace, so SBA is looking at some of its programs to continue to support businesses," said Guzman.
A major challenge businesses have faced is attracted enough staff to stay open for all hours.
"We're trying to come up with game plans and making sure we're taking care of the staff that we have, but it's definitely going to be a challenge to overcome in the future," said Johnson.
Guzman said federal relief is helping businesses try and attract the staff they need. Extended federal unemployment benefits last until September.
"With the relief, businesses are able to adapt to work force challenges that are taking place and either paying their employees more or working to retain them in the first place," she said.
Guzman also held a roundtable discussion with the business community in Portsmouth on Tuesday afternoon.