Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dearborn Downtown Development Authorities (DDDAs) had planned to create a business assistance team to help the city's entrepreneurs better connect to resources and guidance. But Cristina Sheppard-Decius, executive director of the DDDAs, says COVID-19 made that plan a priority.
"As we went into the pandemic and everybody was shut down, our Design and Economic Vitality Committee basically said, 'We need to get this thing going now,'" Sheppard-Decius says.
In April the DDDAs launched the Dearborn Business Assistance Team (DBAT), which has since provided a variety of free services to help Dearborn business owners. Sheppard-Decius says the effort is beneficial not just for businesses, but also for the DDDAs and downtown Dearborn in general.
"If we can retain businesses, we are much better off than having to try to recruit new businesses to come into the district," she says.
One of DBAT's signature programs has been its one-on-one business consultations, for which the DDDAs partnered with over 25 local and state organizations that offer resources for businesses. Business owners can fill out a short online survey to specify their needs, and the DDDAs will then connect them to the organizations best suited to help.
"All they have to do is tell us a little bit more about their business and what some of their struggles or concerns are, the things that keep them up at night," Sheppard-Decius says. "Then we can identify from the team who might be the best consultant or consultants to meet with that business."
Sheppard-Decius says the DDDAs' and DBAT's main role in the consultation program is pulling various resources together from providers across the state.
"They can't really get into the local community and really reach some of these businesses that need all these services that they offer," she says. "We're that point of connection."
Over the course of one to two meetings, DBAT helps the business owner develop what Sheppard-Decius describes as a "game plan" to address their challenges, and then tracks them in their progress. Sheppard-Decius says only a "handful" of business owners have taken advantage of the service so far but exhorts others to take advantage of the free resource.
DBAT has also found success with a series of webinars for Dearborn's business community, including two "town hall" meetings and one on small business financing. Sheppard-Decius says DBAT's first town hall drew 30 to 40 attendees; the second had fewer live attendees, but DBAT received many requests for the recording of the meeting afterward. She says that shift reflects changing demands on business owners' time as the pandemic has shifted and businesses have reopened.
"Everyone is back to business, but they're back to business at a level that is much more intense," she says. "Finding that extra time to really focus and concentrate on your business becomes really challenging. We see that with businesses all the time, but even more so now."
As the business world continues to shift under the tumultuous conditions of COVID-19, Sheppard-Decius encourages Dearborn businesses to reach out to DBAT for support tailored to their needs.
"That's why the business assistance team is so important," she says. "It's there to reach out and help when that business really can utilize that help."