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Meet Napa's Small Business Recovery Task Force

Meet Napa's Small Business Recovery Task Force

From the Coronavirus roundup from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series
City of Napa

Flyers from the city of Napa include tips for small business owners and ways shoppers can support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While the shelter-in-home order has likely prevented a surge in COVID-19 cases in Napa hospitals and protected many residents from contracting the coronavirus, it’s also leading to a wave of economic devastation.

As conversations about life after lockdown cautiously begin, a number of local business leaders have joined together to focus on the important task of recovery.

The Small Business Recovery Task Force includes industry leaders who represent various organizations in Napa’s business community: Mary Cervantes of the Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center, Gerardo Martin of the Napa County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Craig Smith of the Downtown Napa Association, Travis Stanley of the Napa Chamber of Commerce, and Bruce Wilson of the Workforce Alliance.

Collectively, the group represents the interests of the majority of Napa’s businesses as well as its workforce.

Two members of Napa’s Economic Development Division, Neal Harrison and Stephanie Cajina, are also on the task force to represent the city.

What started as a weekly 30-minute call to discuss potential partnerships between the private and public sector soon evolved into a working collaboration for reaching as many small businesses as possible and helping to usher them into recovery.

“It was a mutual realization that this could be a powerful group,” Community Development Director Vin Smith said of the task force’s genesis. “Everybody’s contributing to the effort, and the success of the group will be driven by the participation of those industry leaders with our city staff there for collaboration and support.”

The group wants to identify barriers to supporting local businesses, think of creative solutions and conduct outreach to ensure business owners are getting the support they need to survive for now and thrive once again in the future, Smith said.

The true muscle of the task force lies in the adage that there’s power in numbers. By collaborating together, they’ve been able to reach far more people and create clear-cut pathways for them to activate services and tap into available support.

“One of the big powers of coming together is that we each have our own connections so while we may not be reaching the entire business community, together we’re getting out to a much larger sampling,” Wilson said.


The task force’s first challenge was connecting business owners to reliable information. As unemployment claims shot up, economic indicators fell and panic rose among business owners, it became difficult to keep up with the rapidly changing information coming from agencies at the county, state and federal level.

“It was really important for us to try to get the most accurate information out there in a timely way and to build this brain trust of different small business providers and leaders to get that information into the public,” Cajina said.

Of particular urgency to business owners was how to receive emergency funding made available by the federal CARES Act passed in March, an intended lifeline for many businesses that have had to close their doors or watch sales plummet.

Cervantes, who works closely with owners through her work at the Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center, said the collective networks of task force members directed many new clients to her for assistance in filling out applications, planning for how to use the relief and outlining any additional financial resources available to them.

Craig Smith, for example, sent out “at least 30 email blasts in a three-week period to 800 people each time” that directed his downtown members to the SBDC and the services they provide.

Concerns also emerged for Napa’s workforce, one that is disproportionately tethered to the hard-hit tourism industry that ordinarily motors the entire regional economy.

“The thing that ties this entire group together is that there’s a very strong acknowledgement that we need a strong business community in Napa,” Wilson said of the task force’s cohesion even at such an early stage. “From my standpoint, a strong business community means people are employed, so something like this is just terrifying.”

Wilson said the biggest challenges his organization encountered at the outset of the pandemic was distilling complicated policy changes into bite-sized, digestible pieces for his workforce clients so they know what services they can use to make it through this period of widespread lay-offs and furloughs.

With the outreach of the task force, the Workforce Alliance has been bring growing numbers of impacted workers to weekly rapid response webinars to provide them with resources and actionable steps to take.

What’s next?

Though things are still hard for many small businesses, Napa has demonstrated tremendous resiliency, according to the task force leaders, which makes looking forward the natural next step. The group has transitioned to thinking about what recovery looks like and how to navigate that coming reality, Cajina said.

“One of the scariest parts is the realization that this is not going to be simply flipping a switch and then we go from being shut down to wide open,” Craig Smith said.

That conversation will ultimately be driven by the businesses themselves, Wilson said. He announced the task force’s plan to send out a survey in the next few weeks to business owners and workers to hear directly from them about challenges and opportunity areas so the group can “give our services and partnerships a laser focus” that meets their needs.

Early discussions include finding ways for the city to alter its “internal processes” to facilitate changes that may be required by social distancing guidelines for retail and restaurants, assisting owners in creating a business plan or ramping up their technological infrastructure to be better prepared for a possible resurgence of the virus and tweaking the city’s existing Business Alliance program to better coordinate between the public and private sectors.

“We have had fires, we have had floods, we’ve had these major things happen and we know as a community how disastrous and debilitating they can be. But we also know just as well how strongly we recovery,” Craig Smith said. “We know recovery takes time, but that these are just temporary situations.”

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit

You may reach Carly Graf at; 713-817-4692; or via Twitter @carlykgraf.

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City of Napa reporter

Carly Graf covers Napa city government and community issues. She received her master’s degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. She most recently worked for a news outlet in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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