“This is a community that very much struggled coming out of the Great Recession. So when COVID hit, there was suddenly this fear."
“This is a community that very much struggled coming out of the Great Recession. Ocala was extremely hard hit, perhaps harder than any other Florida community. We had an unemployment rate of 14.4% and one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation.
So when COVID hit, there was suddenly this fear. We were all thinking, ‘Oh no, we just really got moving good and moving forward, are we going back to that?’ We as a community decided, ‘We're not going backwards, we're moving forward, and we're going to find ways to grow and thrive through this.’
Fortunately, Ocala did a lot of hard work right after the Great Recession that enabled us to be strong during the pandemic. During the Great Recession, we had been very fragmented as a community, and that really kept us from responding well. We realized, ‘Look, we're going to have to be faster, more nimble, which means we’re going to have to work together.’ And you can't wait to build partnerships until there’s a challenge. So we looked at that very intentionally and there’s been a lot of work over the last several years building strong community partnerships across the board. Because those partnerships existed when COVID hit, lots of things started moving quickly and some really incredible things happened because of that.
For example, we took a really unique approach to partnerships with the banks and the chamber and the community to get the word out about PPP and we had incredible success.
When Congress was working on the CARES Act and the PPP loans, our chamber staff and business leaders were on the phone with each other all weekend talking about what we were going to do. We were saying, ‘Hey, this is going to be a really big deal, but that's not a lot of money for all of the country. We need to come up with a game plan.’ We worked over the weekend and began pulling together a program that we called ‘Get Gather Go.’ Get Informed, Gather Information, Go Apply. And we began pushing it out through every vehicle we have, including social media, radio buys, and webinars. We had 1000 people sitting in on our webinar about how to fill out your PPP applications.
We also started doing twice a week calls with every one of our lenders, with everyone on the same call. ‘Hey, what are you hearing? What do you know? Are there tweaks? Oh, now they're asking for this, okay, we'll get a change.’ These are lenders who are competing with each other, and here they were not only freely sharing information about the process, but also saying ‘Hey, you know Bob, you don't do a lot of SBA loans, so I will have someone come over and help you figure out how to get that set up so you all can process those.’ I mean, again, huge community partnership. Everyone willing to work together and get outside of the box to do things differently.
Through the first round of PPP, nationally about one out of every 19 businesses got a PPP loan. In the state of Florida, we didn't do quite as well, with one out of every 25 getting a loan. In the Ocala Metro, one out of every eight businesses got a PPP. We were so far ahead of the curve, I think, because there were so many resources out telling and pushing and encouraging early on for businesses to apply. You know, at the end of the day, somewhere around one out of every four businesses in the community got a PPP loan. I think that was the bridge they needed to get through that time so that when summer came and businesses were able to open up again, they would have hung on.
Everyone did just a phenomenal job.”
-- Kevin, Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership (March 2021)