Editor’s Note: The following commentary by Melvin Torres, the director of Western Hemisphere Trade for the university-based World Trade Center Arkansas, ran earlier in the publication Arkansas Money & Politics.
Over a month ago, if you asked what I did for a living, I would answer “We help Arkansas companies export and sell their products to the world. We propel Arkansas’ economy.” Yet, we woke up one day to an unrecognizable world.
We are not taking trade delegations to other countries to help export Arkansas products and services, nor attending international trade shows with Arkansas businesses to sell. We are not receiving trade delegations nor diplomatic commercial diplomacy envoys to increase exports in our state. We are now trading something different. We are trading kindness.
In the blink of an eye, my job evolved from helping Arkansas businesses export, to assist everyone that needs help stay afloat and survive, fighting to spare our economy from doom. We are looking for answers few people know, if any at all. Many calls, emails, texts, social media posts, and videoconferences to find an answer to many questions in the long list.
I talk to different companies every day and with the support of different organizations, we are trying to help businesses survive, employees kept on payroll, and provide direction to people who have lost their job. This is my normal now. I help communicate and match available emergency financial assistance for Arkansas businesses and individuals like:
SBA Paycheck Protection Program — SBA will forgive loan if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. For small businesses, sole proprietors, independent contractors, self-employed persons, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, 501(c)(19) veterans organization, or Tribal business concern (sec. 31(b)(2)(C) of the Small Business Act).
Arkansas STEP Grant — State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) grant, which assists eligible Arkansas small businesses and agricultural producers with export development by reimbursing eligible expenses.
Small Business Grants Program — Facebook has committed $100 million in cash grants and advertising for small businesses.
SBA Additional Debt Relief — current SBA Serviced Disaster (Home and Business) Loans: If your disaster loan was in “regular servicing” status on March 1, 2020, the SBA is providing automatic deferments through December 31, 2020.
Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance — Up to $10,000 of relief which will not have to be repaid to help businesses address the COVID-19 outbreak.
Quick Action Loan Program — Funds from the Arkansas Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund are now allocated for loans to small to medium-sized companies that are in the supply chain of essential goods and services (including healthcare, food manufacturing, logistics).
EXIM Bank COVID-19 Programs — Several temporary relief programs for businesses from EXIM Bank.
Arkansas Department of Agriculture — Resources for Arkansas farmers during the COVID-19 emergency.
Now, our websitetalks about COVID-19 and you, instead of exclusively helping Arkansas companies export. We have information for businesses wanting to help, information on what to do if you lost your job, and how to keep businesses afloat with financial assistance.
There will soon be a time when we will continue to help our businesses and farmers export and sell their products as we always do. Yet, if you ask me now what we do at the World Trade Center Arkansas, I will answer “we now trade kindness and resources for our businesses to survive these moments”.
The mission of the World Trade Center Arkansas is to grow trade and increase Arkansas exports by connecting Arkansas businesses to the world through international trade services. The Center is part of the University of Arkansas and serves as the trade promotion arm for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. For more information and valuable updates, please follow the Center on Facebook and Twitter or subscribe to the World Trade Center Arkansas newsletter.
Melvin Torres is the director of Western Hemisphere Trade for the World Trade Center Arkansas. He has managed cross-functional teams as a vice president, a director, and a general manager at some of the world’s strongest companies including Citibank, General Electric and Commerce Bank.