The global pandemic has changed the way we conduct our daily lives but also our business lives. We’ve been heartened to see how the small businesses around Central Pennsylvania are pushing forward. To get a big-picture view of the creative ideas and overall attitude of companies in the area, SGC reached out to Cathy Hirko, associate publisher and editorial director at Central Penn Business Journal, whose outstanding coverage of the pandemic has been a must-read at our office. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
SGC: What’s the general mood among small businesspeople you have spoken to?
Cathy Hirko: I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint one direct mood for everyone. It ebbs and flows based on what you’re dealing with each day. I’d say there are days when things are going really well for people, they’re connecting and moving and getting good news. And other days there’s frustration.
People are really rising to the level they need to be at right now. They’re asking, “What can I do to respond to this?” They are pivoting to make changes and adapt to this new normal.
For some, that might be reaching out to the government, trying to get forms filled out for bridge funding. Or it could be something as simple as figuring out how to do something differently, such as a gym that put its workouts online.
SGC: What types of stories are generating the biggest interest among your audience?
Hirko: Anything from the government in relation to rules and regulations or guidance is generating lots of interest. For example, a few weeks ago when Governor Tom Wolf decided to issue a mandate for facemasks, business leaders wanted to know the parameters. It was a huge story that affects companies directly in every way.
We’re also finding that stories of innovation, of businesses making changes in what they’re doing, are very popular because people are learning from that. They’re figuring out, “Oh, I didn’t know I could do that.”
SGC: What creative ideas have you seen small businesses put into action right now?
Hirko: We’re seeing small businesses merging with other businesses to figure out how they can work together as a team. They’re figuring, “Maybe we can’t do all this on our own.” I just connected with a girlfriend in Lock Haven who wanted to learn more about how someone in her industry was doing business down here, so I connected her with someone.
I think it benefits people to talk and collaborate. You want to know you are not in this on your own. Isolation is your enemy.
SGC: What other innovations have you seen?
Hirko: Folks have started to figure out, “How can I switch what I’m making to meet demand?” A couple companies that were creating whiskey went to making hand sanitizer. I see multiple companies creating products the healthcare industry needs, such as PPE masks and ventilators and other equipment.
SGC: How can the public help out these businesses?
Hirko: The fact is, it’s not business as usual as it was before March in our area. A lot of businesses are trying something new. They’re trying to figure out how to maneuver. Keep in mind that the way we used to do things may not be the way people do this now. I wish I had a magic wand to help everyone, but I also see rising stars coming out of this situation we’re in right now.
I think, in general, you need to make a decision on who to support based on your personal circumstances and the needs of your family.
SGC: How can small business owners keep up their spirits right now?
Hirko: I talked to one CEO who says the effect during these types of crises—not that you look forward to them—but they offer the chance to innovate and make changes that maybe wouldn’t have happened a year or two ago.
Change is hard, but sometimes during these times, you realize you have to make this change. There are companies finding workflow processes and innovation they probably need. This CEO said, avoid the attitude of “woe is me.”