Heroes emerge during COVID-19 economic hardships
The COVID-19 pandemic has accounted for many businesses suffering from critical financial hardships. Regretfully, some small businesses have not made it through and others remain unsure about the future.
While work continues to provide support and assistance, a number of Oklahoma City business leaders have emerged as heroes by helping many until the community reaches the other side of this pandemic.
Steve Hart, Executive VP, First Fidelity Bank
“I received a phone call from Brent Bryant, finance director for the City of Oklahoma City. He described the Oklahoma City Small Business Continuity Program and asked if First Fidelity would be willing to partner with the city to help the community.
“Our role was to help provide underwriting assistance using our standardized small business loan scoring to help OKC evaluate the ‘No-interest forgivable loans’ and the ‘low-interest 10-year loans’ available for the OKC Small Business Continuity Loan. We volunteered to help the City provide our bank expertise with the administration of the loans to accept payments and track the history of each loan originated under the new program. It was a pleasure working with great representatives from OKC, the Chamber and The Alliance for Economic Development for Oklahoma City which provided necessary technical support to the team.
“Oklahoma’s banks are strong and continue to be very willing to help support local businesses during a time of need. Employees of First Fidelity Bank enjoy opportunities to strengthen our community and help local businesses face the economic challenges presented during these difficult times. We also provided more than 1,600 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans for a combined amount exceeding $177 million to small businesses under the SBA’s program. We value our local small businesses and truly appreciate the invitation to partner with the City to help provide much-needed assistance to local companies.”
Mark Nance, VP, Chief Data Officer, American Fidelity
“I received a phone call from the Chamber asking if we could provide assistance creating a portal for the purpose of taking applications for small business assistance grants and loans in relief of those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. I discussed the situation with our team and let them know that we believed that we could be of assistance.
“Our team participated in meetings right away to get an understanding of the requirements and related timeframes. We proposed a solution for the creation of a portal for the public to use in applying for a grant or loan including the back-end processes to communicate this information to the appropriate parties. The entire process was very collaborative and the dynamic of the cross-organizational teams coming together to build a viable solution in a very compressed time frame was energizing. Our team set about the task of creating the website and getting it operational. After going live, we continued working to solve support questions, develop further enhancements and ensuring all parties were receiving the data that they were needing.
“We wanted to contribute, however possible, in efforts to benefit our business community. The situation with COVID-19 and the resulting shutdowns are unprecedented in our lifetimes. Our executives and leadership collectively wanted to contribute in any way possible to help our City and community. It was the right thing to do.”
Chris Cox, Owner, The House
“Once the shutdown began, we knew right away that many of our clients that we work with would need to cut costs as quickly as possible. We figured marketing would be among the first to go. So, we created ‘The House Helps,’ an immersive live stream fundraising OKC leaders helping business community navigate through economic rebuild 8June 2020 Greater Oklahoma City Chamber The POINT! programming that seeks out small donations from a large audience. It’s crowdsourcing with a twist. We knew that if everyone chipped in $1, we could raise a couple of thousand fast. We win by keeping people at home safe and entertained. We win when we continue to do what we love and hopefully inspire others.
“Our first event was with my personal favorite watering hole in OKC, The Pump Bar and Bunker Club. We tried a unique setup where we brought in some of their employees to do cocktail demonstrations and more. We created different tiers of donation. For instance, if we received a $25 donation, one in the group would take a shot. It worked its way up to The Pump giving away a 50-person party that contained drinks for the top level. It was a lot of fun.
“Since then we’ve worked with OSO, the Picasso Cafe, the Other Room and The Dust Bowl dolls. All totaled, we have raised $16,141 with plans to do more livestream fundraising events, with our next one being with OKC Pride since they have to cancel their annual event. We also pass through 100% of all donations, our team has been working extremely hard at a pro-bono rate because we love this city and the community it’s become and we are honored to keep that spirit alive in desperate times.”
Hailey McDermid, Owner, The Pump Bar/Bunker Club
“The shutdown could not have come at a worse time for us. We were gearing up for our busiest season which is March, April and May. When it warms up outside and is beautiful that’s when we’re the busiest. We survive on our spring business that’s what keeps us alive. We closed on March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day. It was painful and scary on a lot of levels. I have 37 people that I employ, and I was scared of what that was going to mean for them.
“While we were waiting to re-open I wanted a way to be involved and help even if it was from my house. I reached out to some friends I know who work at the OU Heart Hospital and asked what they might need. That is where I found out about the mask extenders.
“They are small plastic devices that allow you to adjust your mask to make it tighter or looser depending on how it fits. A lot of people liked them and told me how it takes the pressure off the back of the ear and keeps it from falling off their face.
“I’ve been using a pair of 3-D printers to make them. It takes one hour to print eight of them, so it’s a slow go. But, in 45 days we have made and distributed over 2,000 to area hospitals and EMSA personnel.”
Jana Steelman, VP of Communications, United Way of Central Oklahoma
“We had begun starting a response beginning on March 11. It became really real on March 16 and we’ve been in full disaster mode since then. We still have been able to continue providing our basic services, but we knew we had to act quickly and come up with new ways to reach those agencies who depend on us.
“What has helped us is that we have experience in generating disaster response funds including the Murrah Building bombing and the May 3 tornado outbreak. Because of this, we were able to put our COVID response fund into action relatively quickly.
“Our board of trustees took action and established a response fund dedicated to increasing resilience among our most vulnerable individuals and families. We were able to quickly distribute those funds in support of our partner agencies of the United Way of Central Oklahoma and used to address the needs of those individuals who are experiencing COVID-19 related hardship. Primarily we are helping people due to temporary unemployment, lost income or unexpected expenses related and due to COVID-19.
“Since then, we saw an outpouring of support from the community. We’ve raised more than $1.2 million and have distributed more than $1 million to 25 different partnering agencies in the community. We were lucky to get this out the door. It has allowed us to provide money right away so these agencies could survive until federal funding arrives. We’re still accepting donations because none of us know how long the need will remain.”
Deborah McAuliffe Senner, CEO/President, Allied Arts
“We were preparing to host our 18th annual Artini event, Oklahoma City’s largest martini competition and art auction which brings together 800-1,000 patrons, local restaurants, entertainment and local artists for a dynamic evening benefiting the arts. We were truly excited about this year’s event which we had entitled, Camptini – A Celebration of the Outrageous.
“However, since all large-scale events were being canceled or postponed we took a huge leap and decided to take our event totally virtual. We first contacted all of our sponsors, and they agreed to our virtual decision.
“The artists were supportive as well, so we launched our virtual bidding website and ended up with the most successful Artini in the 18-year history of the event, raising over $121,000. We sold $60,000 in artwork. We gave artists 100 percent of the art sales. Then our partners at UPS donated their time and resources in delivering all of the artwork to the purchasers. I am thankful for my team at Allied Arts who were able to quickly adapt, to the committee for planning, to all of the sponsors and attendees who helped to make it a success and to UPS for delivering.
“The art world is affected in calamitous ways and will likely be among the last to return to any kind of normalcy due to our interaction with large groups and audiences. Allied Arts also launched the Central Oklahoma Arts Relief fund to respond to the emergency needs of the arts and cultural community. We’ve spent more than 20 years growing a vibrant arts community in Oklahoma. When we reach the other side of this pandemic it will be the arts that continue to educate, inspire, enlighten and entertain Oklahoma audiences. We’re doing some heavy lifting, but no one entity can shoulder the entire economic loss to the art sector. That’s why we are appealing to the community for their support.”
To see other heroes of the OKC community, check out more at velocityokc.com/okcbizboost.