by Curtis Rogers, Director of Communications, Urban Libraries Council
Team members from Poudre River Public Library District have stepped up to support small business owners across Colorado during the coronavirus pandemic by answering a call for help from the state’s Office of Economic Development & International Trade. Overwhelmed by the high volume of inquiries about the Paycheck Protection Program, CARES Act and other relief funding during the initial outbreak of COVID-19, the OEDIT asked for help from the library staff in answering questions that come in on the state’s financial hotline.
According to PRPLD Business Librarian Matt West, the opportunity for the library to directly partner with the OEDIT arose at the perfect time. “Recognizing that [COVID-19] could last a long time, we were actively looking for ways to innovate and serve the community from a business angle,” says West. Matt is one of two PRPLD team members now answering calls for the state’s financial hotline. He is joined in this effort by José Luis Ramos, a member of the library’s community services team who focuses on supporting Latino businesses, entrepreneurs and other professionals within the northern Colorado area.
José Luis is the only person currently responding to calls for the OEDIT hotline who is completely fluent in Spanish. By responding to inquiries and following up with calls in both English and Spanish, José Luis is helping small business owners across the state overcome critical language barriers to receiving assistance.
Some of the most frequent discussion topics that arise on these OEDIT calls include questions about the CARES Act, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Paycheck Protection Program, regular unemployment assistance (including special pandemic unemployment assistance) and loan forgiveness for businesses. While Matt and José Luis may not know the answers for every question, they leverage their experience with reference work to quickly guide callers in the right direction.
Another critical component of this work is helping to dispel misinformation in the business community regarding COVID-19 relief. “There are a lot of urban myths out there – many of them are not accurate. Many businesses can be set up to fail because of misinformation,” notes Matt. For instance, many business owners calling the hotline struggle with misinformation surrounding the needs for documenting requests for relief funding, and applications of those funds.
As librarians, Matt and José Luis also have extensive experience in connecting with people and establishing trust-based relationships. This skill set is vital for responding to inquiries for the financial hotline, as many callers are reaching out in a state of extreme need and duress.
“Some of the people calling are in tears, or yelling. They’ve invested all of their life’s savings into a business months ago, and now that business is closed. They need money for rent. To feed their kids. They are in panic mode, and they need answers yesterday.” PRPLD BUSINESS LIBRARIAN MATT WEST
During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in the Fort Collins community come together in the best and most creative ways, because they know to and because they want to. These stories of businesses working together truly exemplify the strength, resilience and commitment to our economic vitality. They are Bringing Business Home.