Southcentral Kentucky small business owners may finally have the lifeline they’ve been looking for during the economy-battering coronavirus pandemic.

The Bowling Green-based Small Business Development Center, which was closed last year when Western Kentucky University stopped its financial support, has been resurrected by the Lexington-based Kentucky Small Business Development Center and a group of local governments and economic development organizations calling themselves the South Central Kentucky Regional Consortium.

Led by the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce, the consortium solicited funding from the 10 counties served by the SBDC and came up with enough – when combined with support from the state’s SBDC – to launch a new office that announced this week the hiring of two business coaches.

Bowling Green native Kevin Yates, who brings a background in electronic commerce and logistics, and commercial loan officer Michele Kors have started in their new roles. Although working remotely for now, Kors and Yates will have offices in the WKU Center for Research and Development on Nashville Road.

Bowling Green Chamber President and CEO Ron Bunch, who was instrumental in raising the funds to replace the $75,000 per year that WKU had been contributing, sees funding the local SBDC office as an investment sure to pay dividends.

“By helping fund these two positions, the chamber is acknowledging the important role entrepreneurs and small businesses play within our economy,” Bunch said in a news release. “We are confident that by providing direct business coaching we will be able to continue driving overall economic growth.”

In Yates and Kors, the local SBDC has coaches who bring experiences that should be valuable in helping businesses emerge from the coronavirus shutdown.

Yates, a Warren Central High School graduate who earned degrees from WKU and the University of Kentucky, was steeped in e-commerce during six years with Bowling Green’s Fruit of the Loom.

Already a growing trend, e-commerce has been accelerated by the social distancing mandates brought about by the pandemic. A Forbes magazine report said total online spending in May hit $82.5 billion, up 77 percent year-over-year.

“My e-commerce background is part of what I bring to the table,” Yates said. “The last two or three years have seen more people building out their websites. Now every business has to have a website to even be a player.”

The hiring of Yates comes on the heels of the KSBDC’s announcement of a partnership with Shopify, a global e-commerce platform.

The partnership will give Kentucky business owners the opportunity to learn the ropes of e-commerce through webinars, tools, trainings and tutorials.

“The global pandemic has presented everyone with obstacles and challenges; but it has also allowed for creativity in new ways of delivering services,” KSBDC State Director Kristina Joyce said. “Through platforms like Shopify, we are able to provide resources for small business owners to begin or expand on what they have already built. E-commerce is a powerful tool, and one of many new ways Kentucky businesses can deliver products and services.”

Kors brings a different skill set that is also much-needed in the COVID-19 world.

“For the last 20 years my career has been focused primarily on U.S. Small Business Administration lending,” Kors said. “I love working with small businesses and entrepreneurs and helping them fulfill their dreams.”

The Bowling Green SBDC has a history of helping businesses get access to SBA loans. The local center was recognized in 2018 as the top producer of SBA loans among the state’s 15 SBDCs.

A familiarity with SBA loans is even more important during a pandemic that spawned the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which makes loans designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The SBA will forgive loans if all employee retention criteria are met and the funds are used for eligible expenses.

“I’m glad to see the SBA being looked at again,” Kors said. “Any business that can take advantage of that (PPP) should do it.”

Joyce said in April that the state SBDC had helped facilitate 23,797 loans totaling $4.1 billion through the PPP that is part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Another 178 loans totaling $33 million had been approved through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

More help is going to be needed as businesses try to recover from the pandemic’s economic devastation, and Joyce said Kentucky is using a chunk of CARES money to beef up the KSBDC and its network of regional offices.

The KSBDC was awarded a $2.4 million CARES Act grant, and Joyce said the money has been used to boost the KSBDC’s presence around the state.

“The KSBDC is extending the number of staff by 15 due to the CARES Act funding and additional partnerships throughout the state,” she said.

Joyce said in April that the KSBDC had 17 business coaches around the state, so the extra funding has allowed her to nearly double that total.

– More information about the KSBDC can be found at ksbdc.org. Information about the Bowling Green office and its new business coaches can be found at ksbdc.org/bowling-green.

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

​– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

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