Richmond’s Economic Developers and Business Leaders Come Together to Respond to COVID-19

Coalition’s efforts lead to new initiatives to aid small businesses and strengthen connections in the region.

Richmond, Virginia: At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, a group of business, community, and governmental leaders representing Richmond and its surrounding localities developed a collaborative, regional response to help address the pandemic’s impact on Central Virginia’s economy. Representing nearly 40 organizations, this coalition’s collective efforts generated millions of dollars in relief loans have been administered, delivered PPE toolkits to more than 2,000 businesses, and launched several new initiatives to aid small businesses.

In mid-March, Leonard Sledge, Director of Economic Development for the City of Richmond, initiated what led to the coalition after a phone call with Brian Anderson, President & CEO of ChamberRVA, and Floyd Miller, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Business League. That effort led to creating a serious of virtual meetings where local leaders were able to meet and collaborate on effective ways to support local businesses, allowing organizations to leverage other resources and talents to design new outreach efforts and best serve their constituencies at a critical moment. “I appreciated how quickly the group came together and worked selflessly,” said Sledge, who said the effort far exceeded his expectations.

The meetings created a forum for regional collaboration and information-sharing as the pandemic unfolded. Anderson said these digital sessions “epitomized regionalism.” The “ad hoc group came together to make a difficult situation better and made a difference in the psyche of small businesses who were reeling from the crisis,” said Anderson. Sledge added: “The region worked together to develop a consistent response to the crisis, and the community feels more interconnected now.”

Engagement and Partnership Drove Outreach and Support
Key initiatives developed or enhanced as a direct result of the regional group’s collaboration include:

  • ForwardRVA provided nearly 2,000 PPE toolkits to businesses and organizations from New Kent to Powhatan, Hanover to Hopewell, and all communities in between, as well as resources for local businesses:
  • Financial contributions toward ForwardRVA from GO Virginia and its Region 4 Council.
  • The Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan Program, which has provided $854,920 in short-term capital to support local businesses.
  • The Chesterfield County Back in Business Grant, which has provided $1.9 million in grants to local businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19.
  • The Virginia Restaurant, Travel, and Lodging Association’s Virginia Restaurant Promise, a set of commitments to employees and customers, distributed to restaurants to help businesses meet reopening requirements.
  • ChamberRVA’s RVA Small Business Relief Fund, with an initial $250,000 seeded by Facebook, which aims to “provide immediate relief to our region’s small businesses in the form of unrestricted grants as a stop-gap relief pending the release and distribution of anticipated federal and state aid.”
  • The Central Virginia African American Chamber of Commerce’s Black Business Accelerator Program, which helps “propel African American businesses to a level in which they can compete and perform equally with majority businesses that have stronger roots and relationships. The program offers guidance for best business practices and provides interaction opportunities with corporate executives and industry leaders.
  • Ashland’s Safety Enhancement Grant Program, which provides up to $2,000 to local businesses to help them meet Virginia’s enhanced safety guidelines for phased reopening.
  • Goochland County’s e-Commerce Grant Program, which facilitates technology access to technology for small, for-profit private businesses located in the county.
  • The Hanover Chamber of Commerce’s Coalition Series, which are webinars featuring Ashland and Hanover experts on succeeding through and out of the pandemic.
  • $2 million deposited by Henrico EDA toward Virginia Community Capital’s SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
    • VCC provided 42 PPP loans in Henrico County worth $4.1 million; borrowers included three nonprofit organizations, 10 women-owned businesses, and seven minority-owned businesses; 382 jobs were retained as a result of the program.

Strong Participation from Across the Region
More than 50 leaders participated in these sessions, representing a diverse group of organizations with local, regional, and statewide services. A full list of participants is attached.

  • 50% of attendees represented regional organizations
  • 42% of attendees represented local organizations
  • 8% of attendees represented statewide organizations

More than 50 sessions have been held to date:

  • 67% of attendees participated in 25 or more meetings
  • 17% of attendees participated in 6 to 10 meetings
  • 8% of attendees participated in 21 to 25 meetings
  • 8% of attendees participated in 11 to 15 meetings

Local leaders who participated in the Richmond region’s COVID-19 response meetings praised the opportunity to regularly share information and resources, as well as to strengthen relationships with their peers:

  • For Floyd Miller, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Business League, the biggest takeaway was the genuine concern about giving back and working together. He appreciated the opportunity for the MBL to have a seat at the table with other regional leaders. “It allowed them to know more about what we do and allowed us to learn more about what other people were doing. I hope that it continues when we get through the pandemic,” Miller added.
  • Melissa Miller, Executive Director of the Hanover Chamber of Commerce, said the response group “made us stronger as a region and allowed our chamber to be better informed,” adding that the meetings gave her “the feeling that our region truly is in this together and wanted to respond collectively.”
  • Garrett Hart, Director of Economic Development for Chesterfield County, noted that the coalition comprised a “great group of caring regional minded organizations, all with the single goal of helping in any way possible.”
  • Joe Topham, Business Retention and Expansion Manager for the Ashland Office of Business and Economic Development, said that “hearing other people going through the same problems and learning from more experienced leaders was a really valuable experience.”
  • Sara Worley, Economic Development Coordinator for Goochland County, made “connections to resources and other [Economic Development] offices, which has been extremely beneficial.”

Richmond’s Regional Response Reflects National Trend
Other regions from coast to coast partnered on their outreach, highlighting the importance of a coordinated local response to the crisis:

  • The Allegheny Conference on Community Development, a coalition comprising the city of Pittsburgh and 10 surrounding counties, created the “Pittsburgh Region COVID-19 Response” website providing daily COVID-19 updates and resources. The coalition also created a “Ready Pittsburgh” toolkit with guidelines for reopening.
  • The City of Houston collaborated with Harris County, the Houston Housing Authority, and the Houston Coalition for the Homeless to provide resources for people experiencing homelessness, with an emphasis on aiding those especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • The Michigan Economic Development Corporation provided economic support to businesses, entrepreneurs, workers, and communities across the state. Working in collaboration with more than 100 economic development partners, the organization supported more than 3,400 companies, retained more than 14,700 jobs, and launched 17 response programs.