BY SHARON HILLSTROM

Being in daily contact with businesses navigating their way through the impacts of COVID-19, our team at the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC) hears firsthand the challenges facing business owners and employees. We also hear inspiring examples of problem-solving and generosity.

If there’s one word that sums up how businesses are coping, it’s “relationships.”

Relationships with accountants and bankers are key to applying for financial assistance through the various loans and grants being offered to bolster businesses and help workers.

Relationships with vendors are essential to keeping supply chains moving so that essential businesses, like manufacturing, can continue.

And relationships with organizations like ours have never been more important as clearinghouses for information and resources that can mean the difference between business success and failure at this critical time.

As a member of Manatee County’s Emergency Operations team, we are among the first to learn and share vital information and resources from federal, state and local agencies. We also communicate the needs of local businesses to those agencies.

To help businesses through this crisis, we are identifying sources of federal and state financial assistance and compiling a list of local lenders that participate in those programs.

We’re working to connect displaced workers with businesses that are facing unprecedented staffing demands.

We also are looking for ways to help local businesses pivot their products and services to help in the fight against the pandemic.

Through all of these efforts, we see over and over that relationships we have nurtured in the region, state and nation are coming into play when local businesses need them most.

One example is JobFocus.com, the online job bank for Manatee and Sarasota counties. Not a replacement for the state’s Employ Florida site, JobFocus.com is an additional – and locally focused – place for employers and job seekers to connect.

Generating awareness for JobFocus.com is a rallying point for numerous business and workforce organizations that are promoting the platform to businesses and displaced workers in the region. At last count, 15 different groups were working together on the effort, which is gaining traction.

JobFocus.com partner logos

Promoting JobFocus.com is an example of the power of relationships — all of these separate organizations in two counties coming together for a common purpose: to build an effective campaign connecting employers who need workers and people who need jobs. We did it in less than two weeks, while working remotely, because of relationships forged over years of collaborating on other efforts.

Times of trouble can forge new relationships and deepen existing ties. We’re encouraged by that every day in our work at the EDC.

And here’s another encouraging sign: Despite current economic uncertainties, our EDC team continues to consult by phone and digitally with businesses that are considering relocating to our community or expanding here. Such a strong vote of confidence from businesses is excellent news and reassures us that the long-term future of our local economy is bright.

Meantime, we are in a fluid situation of shifting circumstances and floods of information. We’re sharing what we learn about business resources related to the impacts of COVID-19 on our website at BradentonAreaEDC.com/COVID19. Our team is also available to Manatee County businesses for consultation by phone and email.