In a recent community dialogue diving into Covid-19’s effect on Black businesses, nearly 83% of viewers were unaware of the City of Charlotte’s Open for Business initiative created to support small businesses operating during the pandemic and throughout the recovery.
Since then, many business owners have admitted they’re unaware of the local resources that can help them get through this time. One aspect of the initiative is the Community Recovery Task Force, assembled by Mayor Vi Lyles and Charlotte City Council to support families and businesses impacted by Covid-19 and help plan for recovery.
QCity Metro spoke to an informative voice on the matter, local business owner and task force member DeAlva Wilson. Her company, the D Wilson Agency, focuses on community engagement, strategy development and supplier diversity, among other things. She also chairs the city’s business advisory committee that provides insight and recommendations on ways local government can improve Charlotte’s business climate, particularly for small businesses.
Wilson’s agency began working remotely on March 13, and through strategic relationships, positioned itself to source two major supplier needs during the pandemic: grant compliance and medical supplies.
Tell us about your involvement with the Community Recovery Task Force small business committee.
The community recovery task force is split into three equally important groups: small business, airport and housing. Membership is made up of sector leaders and CEOs. The [small-business committee] is co-chaired by [council members] Julie Eiselt and James Mitchell and [Assistant City Manager] Tracy Dodson as staff support. Our goal is to help small businesses in their recovery efforts and really understand their needs.
We are looking at guidance from the county, city and state. We will be working within those guidelines and, of course, at the governor’s direction. One of the things we heard very quickly is that people need a place to go. So, the city is in the process of setting up a staffed command center that people can call for assistance. Other things will come out of the task force, but our overall goal is to make sure that small businesses have direction as it relates to recovery.
How has your business been impacted by Covid-19? How did you pivot during this time of change?
We were contacted in the fall about disaster recovery work but did not pursue it because it was not ideal. When she called back after the start of Covid-19, due to the relationship we had established, we were under contract within a week. The others were referrals.
I got calls about ventilators. I got calls about masks. Now all of a sudden, we’re a medical supply company. We have gowns, shoe covers and goggles going to state-level agencies, going to the hospitals, received through federal funds.
That was one relationship I established as part of our Covid-19 solutions. The second, grant compliance and financial recoveries, is essentially helping companies apply for federal grants. We already had [this resource] in my agency.
This is complex work and a lot of people have never had to address these things before. This is a pandemic that has no end in sight right now. We are assisting with compliance, auditing, managing reimbursement and medical equipment for the foreseeable future.
May is Mental Health Month. What’s important to you right now?
I have a goal, but I am completely surrendered and open to the possibilities. I have released control and expectations on how I am going to get there.
I am really appreciating the time at home right now, and I am very thankful that my son is home. My son and niece, it’s just a great family dynamic right now. I feel like working from home from here on out. I tend to work a lot, and I’m much more productive at home.
How are you being mindful of your mental wellness as a business owner?
Thinking back on when it first happened, we knew immediately it was not a good business decision to keep staff and contractors full-time since the business pipeline essentially dried up due to Covid-19. All the staff went part-time with the expectation that they could get back on board in the long run. But, the first thing I tried to do was protect lives by working from home, then protect payroll, and then protect the business. I was able to re-tool and look at where my business fits in the market.
What would you tell other small-business owners facing changes and uncertainty as they prepare to reopen?
I think for small businesses and minorities, we really have to be open to doing things differently going forward — looking at new technology, new industries and realistic market opportunities. This is what we did with the D Wilson Agency and continue to do.
If you want to run a successful business, you cannot be so caught up on “this is the only thing that I do.” If the only thing you do no longer has a place in the market, then you no longer have a business. You have to be flexible, nimble and respond to market demands. There are a lot of opportunities opening up right now.