The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: A tale of two shutdowns

The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: A tale of two shutdowns
Bill Reagan, who has served as executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center for the last 25 years, is set to retire on Jan. 31.

Alexandrians are responding to the impacts of two shutdowns – one haphazard and unnecessary no matter your politics, and the other, that’s both anticipated and essential, on the horizon.

First the government shutdown: Many of our government employees and government contractor neighbors suffered and the ripple effects were felt throughout the region. Meetings and tourism declined, which impacted retailers and restaurateurs, some of whom stepped up and created goodwill with free offerings to furloughed workers. But the ripples extended cash flow crunches to other businesses.

The private sector, community organizations and governments offered services to mitigate the stress, and local hospitality venues were promoted in lieu of other shuttered tourist attractions. The only silver lining to the government chaos has been the opportunity for individuals and organizations to show their ingenuity and big hearts.

The looming shutdown – the full closure of all Metro stations south of Reagan National Airport for the entire summer – is a very bitter pill to swallow. We recognize, however, that to ensure the safety of the Alexandria stations, there’s no avoiding it. The closures will disrupt commuters to and from Alexandria, including employees in our businesses. It will also discourage the visitors so essential to our economy and vitality. Traffic congestion will increase as more people are forced to drive.

City staff members have worked for months with WMATA to plan shuttle bus schedules and routes that would provide commuting alternatives. Visit Alexandria is also working to create hotel packages and ways to advise visitors and keep Alexandrians informed. Expanding water taxi services is also under consideration.

The Small Business Development Center is working with our business community and economic development partners to spread the word through business associations and to gather input from businesses themselves to help the planners evaluate impacts and workarounds.

Nonetheless, businesses are tightening their belts. Revenues are down at the same time that some went to great expense to avoid furloughing their staff. They have strengthened employee and customer loyalty, but it’s been costly. The summer shutdown will add to their stress.

Many businesses found ways to do more with less and can continue to apply these efficiencies moving forward. The SBDC stands ready with no-cost expert financial consultations. Our business analyst created a financial strategies document for periods of economic uncertainty and it is downloadable from our website. Its wisdom is not in novel insights, but rather, in fundamentals you might be overlooking.

Understanding your cash flow and financial position can help alleviate owner anxiety. How strong are your reserves? What flexibility do you have paying your vendors or collecting on receivables? Becoming conversant with financial matters can brace you for the summer and enable better business decisions. If you need advice on these issues, please reach out to the center for consultation.

Businesses that adapt to changing circumstances and come up with innovative ways to attract and retain customers in challenging times will be more successful. Adversity often inspires our best instincts. Kudos to those who are rising to the occasion.

The writer is executive director of Alexandria’s Small Business Development Center.