How Businesses are Pivoting to Meet Demands in a COVID-19 Environment

Thursday, April 9, 2020
Contact: Ilene Greenfield
Director of Media Relations


U.S. SBA and Business Leaders in New Jersey and New York Discuss “Moving Business Forward” in Webinar Hosted by Berkeley College
Moving Business Forward Webinar Panelists_040920

@NJBIA  @CrainsNewYork  @ManhattanCofC   @SBAgov  @SHCCNJ  @BerkeleyCollege #NewsBerkeley 

Underscoring the commitment of business leaders to assist in recovering the economy as best as possible, Berkeley College hosted a webinar, “Moving Business Forward in a COVID-19 Environment,” on April 9, 2020.  Michael J. Smith, President of Berkeley College welcomed the panelists and the participants.

“We have talented and bright people in the front lines,” President Smith said. “We are resilient and smart. Not one of us ever had to go through something like this. While it is certainly challenging and frustrating, today is all about moving forward. It is about using the resources and tools that are out there to be successful.”


Angela Harrington, Vice President, Berkeley College Communications and External Relations, served as the moderator for the forum. Panelists included (left to right, above): Michele Siekerka, Esq., President and CEO, New Jersey Business & Industry Association; Robert Hordt, Editor, Crain’s New York Business; Jessica Walker, President and CEO, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce; Alfred Titone, District Director, U.S. Small Business Administration, New Jersey District Office; and Luis O. De La Hoz, Chairman, Board of Directors, Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of NJ and Vice President, Community Business Development, BCB Bank.

Things They Said and What We Learned

Every panelist acknowledged the uncertainty that employers – especially small businesses – and employees are facing right now. The need for clarity, accurate information, and access to resources is apparent. Alfred Titone, District Director, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), New Jersey District Office, cautioned those applying for any of the programs to make sure the web address is legitimate. There are many imposters and scams. The government website will have the extension of “.gov” and cannot be replicated, he said.

“Everyone is suffering. This is brand new,” Titone said. “We have had more interest in the first week (of new government programs for business) than all of last year. We are encouraging banks to take as many applications as they can. As time goes on businesses will have more access.”

According to Titone, nationwide, 400,000 businesses have been approved for a total amount of $1 billion in SBA loans. He cited several different programs available, including the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance, and the Paycheck Protection (PPP). The agency also offers assistance in applying for these programs.

Banks, too, have been overwhelmed with the rush of applications, and many are supporting their existing customers first. Interest on the PPP loans is capped, so banks do not receive any advantage by servicing them. That is why private lenders are also coming on board to help.

“There was initially a lot confusion. I think as time has gone by the banks are becoming accustomed to processing the loans and hopefully the money will start to get to people,” said Robert Hordt, Editor, Crain’s New York Business.

“The banks are serving their clients first and they have a priority system. We are telling businesses to get all your applications completed for the next wave (of funding) and be ready, you need to have your application in the queue,” said Michele Siekerka, Esq., President and CEO, New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

Not knowing when this public health crisis will end is causing severe cash flow questions for many businesses, who want to do right by their employees. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Luis O. De La Hoz, Chairman, Board of Directors, Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of NJ (SHCCNJ) and Vice President, Community Business Development, BCB Bank. De La Hoz said that SHCCNJ has tools available that individuals can use remotely, in Spanish if that is their preference, and telephone assistance as well.

“There is a lot of confusion, right now,” said Michele Siekerka, Esq., President and CEO, New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “While the banks are serving their clients first now, get your applications completed for the next wave and be ready.”

Undocumented business owners or employees are not eligible to apply for government loan programs, even though those employers pay for unemployment insurance. Support for these individuals and businesses will have to come from the private and nonprofit sectors, according to De La Hoz.

The Evolution of Humanity Depends upon Adaptation

Adjusting business expectations and being prepared to adapt in a changing environment continue to be the hallmarks of successful leadership. “Safety first,” De La Hoz said. In referring to adaptability among restaurant owners, as an example, he cited one that changed items for takeout and delivery with profitability. Now that part of the business accounts for 40 to 60 percent of the restaurant’s revenue.

Jessica Walker, President and CEO, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that beyond the devastating impact of curtailed cash flow, New Yorkers are in survival mode, and the impact of the current situation also is taking its toll mentally. “It is a dark time in our City, and we are doing the best we can to get to the other side. Prior to COVID-19, we stepped up the e-commerce support and that is especially important. Right now there is an opportunity for people and businesses to think about what they will do. We have resources to help them through starting a business or their next step.”

Looking forward, Hordt described inspiring stories of New York entrepreneurs who are shifting their priorities to meet the needs of the public health crisis, such as providing food to hospital workers and manufacturing face shields. “There are really great stories about people who are pivoting, who are changing gears, with the goal of staying in business, staying afloat, and keeping their employees working,” he said.

“People in the United States are very generous,” said De La Hoz. “There is a restaurant in Newark that has a sign that says if you are working, you pay a dollar for a sandwich. If you are out of work, you get it for free. We are resilient and very generous.”

“That’s what we need right now, we need to see how people are stepping up, stepping in, how they are pivoting. I am very proud of our manufacturers in New Jersey,” said Siekerka. “They are extraordinary in how they are stepping up, as well as our retailers. We have a lot of unsung heroes and we need to tell their stories.”

Additional lessons the panelists discussed included companies taking a different look at their supply chains and using more domestic sources going forward, including opportunities for more diverse firms being considered. Acknowledging the safety and essentialness of frontline services such as in the grocery delivery and transportation industries also was cited.

One of the Berkeley College student participants in the webinar, Panagiota Babadelis of West New York, NJ, found the program informative and encouraging.  “Look how far business has come in terms of these speakers, their diverse ethnicity, culture and knowledge,” she said.

To see a list of the resources cited by the panelists, click here.

To view the webinar in its entirety, click here

About Berkeley College
Berkeley College, founded in 1931, is a career-focused institution accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education that offers students Master’s, Bachelor’s, and Associate’s degree and Certificate programs in more than 20 career fields. The College has campuses in Midtown Manhattan and White Plains, NY, as well as in Newark, Paramus, Woodbridge and Woodland Park, NJ, with more than 5,700 students enrolled. In addition, Berkeley College Online® serves a global population. U.S. News & World Report has named Berkeley College among the Best Colleges for Online Bachelor’s Programs and among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Veterans, for seven consecutive years. The website address is

The mission of Berkeley College is to empower students to achieve lifelong success in dynamic careers


To view the photos as high resolution images go to: 

Michele Siekerka  
Robert Hordt
Jessica Walker
Alfred Titone
Luis O. De La Hoz