DeKalb County UNITES holds first webinar to help businesses

By Ashley Dwy

DeKALB — DeKalb County UNITES held their first webinar 2 p.m. Friday to give advice for local small business owners as to what the next steps are to recover from COVID-19.

The guest speakers included President of SundogIT Cohen Barnes, President of OC Creative Brian Oster and  Jock Sommese, instructor for the Department of Management at NIU. Barnes introduced what DeKalb County UNITES is; Sommese gave a presentation about the next steps for small businesses, and Oster monitored the questions asked by the attendees.

Sommese’s main advice was ACT, or apply, communicate and think. These are the steps to take for small businesses to recover from COVID-19, Sommese said.

People either act or react in times of crises, such as COVID-19, Sommese said.

“When we are reacting, that means we don’t have any control and that doesn’t make us feel good,” he said. “So, what we like to do is act. It means we’re taking matters into our own hands and we’re trying to make this work.”

Sommese advised small business owners to apply for all loans and grants that are out there, such as the Economic Injury Diaster Loan as the first step to recovery from COVID-19. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program can provide up to $2 million of financial assistance to small businesses or private, non-profit organizations that suffered from COVID-19, according to

To apply, go online and fill out an application. Sommese said to remember to check a box that talks about getting instant money. It takes about three days, and the money can be up to $10,00 that appears in the desired bank account.

There is a chance the loan will be forgivable as well, Barnes said.

The Paycheck Protection Program is meant for business owners to be able to prevent them from laying off their employees.

“This Paycheck Protection Program is something that could be forgivable,” Sommese said. “If, after this time period, you hire and continue to keep those people employed, and you pay them at least 75% of their wage, the Small Business Association is going to convert that loan — which this is — into a grant.”

The amount of debt forgiven will be included in the taxpayer’s taxable income, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury. If business owners are not going to use the Paycheck Protection Program, then they should let their employees know they can start to collect unemployment, Sommese said.

The $2.2 trillion stipend bill is also a big help in the small business community, Barnes said. In a Northern Star article, it says this stipend bill impacts students at NIU as well.

Sommese recommended small business owners to talk to their lenders and see if their loans are backed by the Small Business Association. If a mortgage is backed by SBA, then six months worth of mortgage payment will be covered by the association — including fees, principle and interest, Sommese said.

“The first line of defense is you should be talking to your lender or your bank,” Sommese said. “There are a lot of programs — both personally and business wise — that banks can do automatically. For example, they do have a program where you can defer your payment for your loan or your note for your mortgage.”

Sommese said he was able to get an extension for three months on his car loan by going onto the site and clicking.

External communication aside, Sommese said it is important to communicate internally, with employees, as well.

“It’s important to communicate exactly what’s going on — within your organization, the plan, if layoffs might happen — to your staff so they can start preparing,” Barnes said.

In the think portion of the presentation, Sommese said it means to think about self-care.

“The whole idea of that is we normally don’t have time to work on the business. We’ve just been given a great opportunity to spend some time to think about what kind of projects we want, to see what kind of planning we can do for the future, and figure out maybe there’s different markets we can go to for that.”

For any questions or concerns Barnes can be reached at [email protected], and Sommese can be reached at [email protected].