It wasn’t 24 hours after Gov. Jared Polis announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Colorado on March 5 that Kami Welch and the Arvada Chamber of Commerce sprung to action. The plan: To provide city businesses with the support and resources needed to combat a global pandemic.
Eight months later, the Arvada Resiliency Taskforce comprised of nearly a dozen entities from the City of Arvada to the Apex Park and Recreation District and others is touting the rapid response that has helped businesses stay afloat.
“We’ve seen incredible impact for our businesses. It’s been really heartwarming to hear the stories of impact from businesses of how these resources, this support has helped them to get through a really difficult time,” said Welch, the Chamber’s President, during the Nov. 2 Arvada City Council meeting.
From the street closures in Olde Town in June to free personal protection equipment for businesses and financial support, the impact has been measurable. But, according to Daniel Ryley, the executive director for the Arvada Economic Development Association, it was crucial that support was given out quickly and dispersed wisely.
Converting the initial $2.8 million emergency small business loan funding in April to a grant program allowed the task force to help an additional 30 businesses receive funds. A second round of funding in September for $1.5 million helped another 150 businesses, Ryley said.
“We want to do what’s right with this money and the resources we have to ensure the best possible opportunity for broad economic recovery, which will create equity of opportunities for all of our businesses. But at the same time, these businesses are not numbers, these are people. These are families in our community, the people we know and care about. We have to also understand the impact and the gravity of these businesses facing incredibly challenging decisions about their own operation," Ryley said.
Choices, like whether to stay open, stay in the same spot, or having to let employees go "that they care about like family,” all take an individual perspective Ryley said, as does gauging the individual and collective impact of each of those choices on the broader community. Understanding those impacts are what Ryley said are important "so that we both can cater to that individual business owner's needs but also lift up the entire business community ... the entire economy."
In recent months, Arvada has seen the impact of the Resiliency Taskforce’s efforts. Sales tax revenue — down 5 percent in April from the same time in 2019 — was up 10 percent in June from a year ago. The unemployment rate has dropped from 12.1 percent in April to 6.1 percent in September, Ryley said.
Furthermore, Olde Town has seen an uptick in foot traffic from 20,000 visitors in April in the early stages of the shutdown to 157,000 per month in August, according to Ryley.
While Ryley noted that all the positives may or may not be a direct result of the task force’s efforts, it was something worth paying attention to. City officials certainly have noticed.
“They’ve done a wonderful job in working to keep our local economy upright during this pandemic and we’re proud of the work they’ve done,” Arvada City Manager Mark Deven said.
“I can’t tell you how good it is for us to have partners like you in the community who not only can but will pick up this ball and run with it, and do what frankly we probably couldn’t have. We definitely could not have done,” Councilman John Marriott said.
Mayor Pro Tem Dot Miller echoed those sentiments.
“You have responded to this pandemic with such a fierce swiftness that it’s incredible to imagine the work that you’ve done and how quickly and efficiently you have done it,” Miller said.
But with Jefferson County moving to Level Orange – Safer-at-Home Level 3 – last week, there is concern that another shutdown could be on the horizon.
“If we have another lockdown we’re all worried what the next thing will do,” Councilman Bob Fifer, a former small business owner, said. “So, we’re all going to keep our fingers crossed that that doesn’t happen.”
That’s why it’s imperative, Welch noted, that the Resiliency Taskforce continues to keep a pulse on the health of businesses in the area, understanding which ones need support and when to deploy necessary resources.
“Everybody (in the taskforce) understands how they can help improve the environment for our local businesses right now and have worked collectively … to make the magic happen,” Welch said.