The COVID-19 pandemic put exceptional stress on economies everywhere and brought unique challenges to college towns such as Davis, California. Whereas during most academic years, students reliably support local small businesses, they were largely prevented from returning and regularly assimilating into the community during the first 12+ months of the pandemic. Healthy Davis Together took a unique approach to combat COVID-19’s negative effects on businesses, by implementing a Business Partners Program (BPP).
The BPP program supported businesses and the local economy through: distribution of PPE to participating businesses, free of cost; grant reimbursements up to $5,000, for items that aided safe business operations such as touchless software, air purifiers, plexiglass shields, etc.; free COVID-19 testing to employees and their families (this was before free testing was widely available); large-scale gift card purchases from businesses, that were used to reward and incentivize safe behaviors among employees and community members; access to Business Ambassadors and public health specialists who advise on safe business practices for customers and employees; and marketing support to encourage community members to patronize participating businesses, especially around peak shopping and dining periods like the 2020 holiday season.
Managed by the City of Davis in collaboration with the Davis Downtown Business Association and Davis Chamber of Commerce, the program launched in November 2020 and ran through the end of June 2021. During that time a total of 424 Davis businesses participated (representing about 30 percent of the customer-facing businesses in the community).
To get a pulse on the impacts of the program and what could be applied to future efforts, an online survey among participating businesses found that:
- Reimbursement grants, free COVID-19 testing and free PPE were especially valued and additional supports – such as help applying for financial assistance, and support interpreting ever-changing guidelines – should be considered for future efforts.
- Businesses’ attitudes about the county’s health mandates grew more supportive because of their involvement with the program.
- Participants felt the BPP helped them both protect the health of employees comply with health mandates.
- Information about safe re-opening would have been welcomed, particularly because the BPP program ended just as stay-at-home orders were lifted and expectations and regulations for businesses changed again.
As counties and cities evaluate their own programs and consider future planning, the BPP program offers elements and learnings to consider. Full survey highlights can be found here, and more detail about the BPP program and how it was implemented can be found here.