Downtown Cheyenne

A Cheyenne Police officer drives along Lincolnway on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018, in downtown Cheyenne. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – As local businesses feel the impact of the coronavirus, economic development groups have shifted their focus. Instead of looking to spur development, these entities are working to ensure that local businesses have the resources to withstand the coming weeks.

Using contests, social media and the power of information, groups like the Cheyenne Downtown Development Authority, Visit Cheyenne and the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce are collaborating to better serve Laramie County’s businesses.

“Our focus just has to be on our people,” Chamber CEO Dale Steenbergen said Tuesday.

Once DDA Executive Director Amber Ash saw the severity of business closures across the country, she said she “realized that a lot of our businesses are going to be in trouble.” A lot of downtown shops rely on springtime sales to bolster losses from the winter, but due to the coronavirus, they haven’t seen sales pick back up.

DDA staff announced Friday that they’re offering Small Business Emergency Assistance Grants of up to $2,500 to help downtown businesses stay afloat.

“It’s certainly not going to take care of everything they need, but it will help them keep the doors open,” Ash said.

The funds can be used for stores’ operating expenses, whether it be internet, rent or utilities. If a business needs financial assistance in another capacity, the DDA will decided how to proceed on a case-by-case basis.

As of right now, the DDA is ready to provide between 10 and 15 grants after shifting funds from other projects. But Ash said they could potentially dip into reserves, depending on the demand.

“We’re trying to get a feel for where businesses are at right now,” Ash said.

The DDA also is currently hashing out the details for a micro-loan program for small businesses in need.

While financial support is a vital need for businesses during this time, support from the community is equally important. The DDA has teamed up with Visit Cheyenne to encourage residents to continue shopping local.

Although Visit Cheyenne is focused on tourism, CEO Domenic Bravo said, “Our community is what makes us a destination in the first place.”

They’ve released a bingo game with squares for things like leaving a review online, ordering carryout and sharing posts on social media. Those who finish their entire bingo card will be entered for a chance to win one of eight $50 gift cards to a downtown business.

“All those types of things – they all make a positive impact,” Ash said. “It’s more important than ever that we support our small businesses downtown.”

And the economic development organizations in the city have been highly collaborative in mobilizing resources and getting work done to help support. According to the Chamber’s Steenbergen, having more brainpower working on the same problem has been a major benefit.

At the Chamber, Steenbergen said they “are ramping up efforts to take advantage of the government funding available.”

On Sunday, Gov. Mark Gordon announced that Wyoming businesses are now able to apply for the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. The Wyoming Small Business Development Center has free consultations with business advisers to help form the best plan of action for each business based on their needs.

The Chamber also has information and resources for business owners at cheyennechamber.org.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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