For small businesses in Fauquier County, sustaining their operations during the pandemic often hinged on the owner’s ability to process and adapt to rapidly changing government information.
Many in Fauquier’s small business community turned to the George Mason University’s Mason Enterprise Center (MEC) and the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for support and guidance.
“There were so many changes and so much information coming so fast, we knew we needed to communicate in a way everyone could understand,” said Christine Kriz, Lord Fairfax SBDC director. “We helped businesses walk through the steps on how to apply for loans and grants. Many times it was life-saving for those businesses.”
For their timely and vital support to the business community, the Fauquier Chamber of Commerce recently recognized Kriz and Renee Younes, regional manager of the MEC, with the 2020 Business Hero of the Year awards.
Kriz, whose work covers six counties, was honored for her role with the Fauquier County COVID-19 response team set up to help businesses impacted by the pandemic. Every week, she provided crucial information to businesses including updates from the Small Business Administration (SBA), changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) process, and new public health requirements from the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) Program.
While the work was pivotal during the pandemic, it is part of a suite of services regularly available to businesses throughout the region.
“The SBDC and MEC are anchors in the Fauquier community,” said Paula Sorrell, associate vice president of innovation and economic development at Mason. “We are a major supporter of the Virginia small business economy, and that job is more important than ever during challenging times like this.”
Kriz and Younes collaborate often and did so even before the pandemic. One of the opportunities they provide jointly is a breakfast seminar series to match entrepreneurs with others in the community who might have relevant expertise and can assist them in navigating specific issues.
This coordination has been crucial for businesses as they emerge from the pandemic.
“The blessing of COVID is that it brought people closer,” said Kriz. “We came together as a group cohesively, solidified our relationships and got to know each other better. We got through it together.”
Lord Fairfax is one of 26 Mason-run SBDC network offices providing comprehensive services helping small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs across the commonwealth create business plans, apply for loans, track their financials and launch marketing campaigns, all at no cost to them.
The MEC in Fauquier is one of four Mason-run incubators focused on supporting small companies. At these centers, entrepreneurs can receive mentorship and one-on-one counseling, attend educational sessions on starting and managing a business, access group health insurance and receive accounting, payroll and human resources support.
“Bringing people together to solve problems is probably what Renee does best,” said John Frazer from Brown & Bigelow, who nominated Younes for the award.
Despite disruptions to in-person engagement activities, Mason remained committed to supporting the needs of the local economy. In the past year, Mason assisted more than 10,000 companies, providing them with more than 27,000 hours of counseling. More than 17,000 entrepreneurs and small business owners attended 800 Mason-hosted events. The result is an estimated economic impact to the Commonwealth of Virginia of more than $1 billion.