Suffolk Forward: A Five Pronged Approach To Small Business Recovery

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Main Street in Sag Harbor. DANA SHAW

Expert advice, tech support, hiring help, tips for pivoting, and a special gift card clearing house are all part of the multifaceted Suffolk Forward initiative announced by County Executive Steve Bellone this week to help small businesses through the coronavirus pandemic.

Designed, he said, “to help jump start local businesses,” the initiative, dubbed Suffolk Forward, was created in cooperation with Stony Brook University College of Business.
The partnership, Mr. Bellone said, could help small businesses close gaps in available resources while providing valuable information as well as insight into strategies business owners can use to reconfigure how they operate.

“While technologies have been forced to adapt their operations, it has also exposed how many lack the technology capabilities to transition to virtual or online services,” the county executive pointed out. Leveraging expertise and resources from the college and county can help businesses improve operations and infrastructure alike.

Suffolk Forward comprises a suite of five distinct services.

The first initiative is a gift card platform where Suffolk residents can pre-purchase goods and services in a one stop shop. The platform is free for businesses to participate and post their links to gift cards. Visit operationmainstreet.com and enter your zip code to see what’s available in your community. Operation Main Street was created by eGifter of New York in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of helping small businesses enhance their sales of gift cards.

Mr. Bellone said Monday that he hopes to launch additional Suffolk Forward programs in the coming days. They include the Suffolk Forwards Job Board. The job board will give residents access to job listings and provide businesses with a pool of talented applicants seeking new employment opportunities.

The Tech Enhancement Program offers the chance to collaborate with Stony Brook University business, computer science, and IT students. With input from faculty, the students will assess a company’s technology needs and advise owners about strategies for meeting, then implementing the needs. Mr. Bellone emphasized how the lack of technology has impaired local businesses, forcing many to close down. Filling those gaps in tech could help a small company transition to recovery.

And while the transitioning is underway, the Suffolk Forward “Pandemic Shift” Business Workshops will offer peer support that focuses on four key topics: hope, survival, focus, and pivot. Coordinated by the College of Business, the initiative entails four 90-minute video workshops.

Mr. Bellone described that final program as “virtual office hours with Stony Brook College of Business experts and professors.” The Suffolk Forward Virtual Expert Network offers complimentary consultation with specialists who can work to brainstorm solutions to individual workplace challenges.

“An important role for Stony Brook’s College of Business is to do all we can to support economic development on Long Island,” Dr. Manuel London, dean of the College of Business said in a release announcing Suffolk Forward. “This is particularly critical now. We look forward to partnering with Suffolk County on this initiative.”

A needs assessment survey distributed to the county’s top three most impacted sectors — restaurant, retail, and construction — will kick off Suffolk Forward. SBU will analyze responses with the goal of both delivering services and tracking results.

Suffolk Forward builds on the work the county’s business recovery unit began when it was formed at the outset of the crisis. While public health has been the county’s priority, Mr. Bellone said Monday that the BRU was convened to look at the re-emergence from the pandemic.

“From the very beginning we have been focused on our economic recovery, even though this is a public health crisis and that has been our main focus, we, from the start, knew there was going to be economic devastation here and we immediately stood up the business recovery unit.”

The BRU works with the Department of Economic Development, the Department of Labor to develop programs to support small businesses. To be connected with the unit, phone the county’s call in center at 311.

U.S. Census Bureau listed 49,806 “employer establishments” in Suffolk County in 2017, the most recent statistics. Employer establishments are businesses with fixed locations and paid staff. The Bureau lists 131,986 nonemployer establishments, meaning businesses where the owner is self-employed.

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