SBA officials recognize Minburn Communications during National Small Business Week
In March 2020, a new normal crept across the country as schools shifted to online learning, teleworking became commonplace, and businesses fought to stay in the black. Circumstances challenged every demographic, but the transition to an online-dominated system of learning and business posed unique challenges to rural communities – like many in Iowa – where one in four people lack access to a steady internet connection.
Minburn Communications, a broadband company in rural Iowa, recognized within days of the pandemic’s onset that they played a pivotal role for the people and businesses in their community who needed reliable broadband. As days of quarantine turned into months, the demand for high-speed internet increased, but the company faced the difficult reality that customers who were unemployed or furloughed may be unable to pay for their services. Regardless, Debra Lucht, CEO of Minburn Communications, committed to avoid terminating services to families and businesses unable to pay their fees as part of the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” initiative.
“Throughout the challenges of the pandemic, we wanted to partner with customers and businesses to work through problems together,” said Lucht.
The company’s effort to problem solve didn’t come without a price tag. Lucht said financial challenges were amplified when they implemented new operational procedures that included Personal Protective Equipment for technicians during home visits and carefully designed procedures that ensured their employees were able to maintain proper social distance from others.
“The new way of doing business had a negative impact on our financials. Given all the unknowns, we applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan right away. Having access to this money gave us reassurance that we would be able to continue doing business and meet the demands of our community,” Lucht said.
With their payroll expenses covered by the PPP loan administered through the Small Business Administration (SBA), Minburn Communications was able to deploy innovative measures to serve their clientele.
They worked with businesses to manage services and offered a Pandemic Plan to temporarily reduce monthly fees. They also set up payment plans for customers who expressed concerns about paying their bills on time.
Lucht says the PPP also empowered them to continue fulfilling their primary mission: to serve their community. Working with the local school board, the Minburn Communications team identified three regional areas that needed additional internet resources and set up unlimited free public WiFi hotspots in areas with extensive parking capacities. They also implemented an employee program to help stimulate their local economy and neighborhood businesses by giving each staff member $15 each week to spend at local shops or restaurants.
“The PPP provided certainty during a time of a lot of unknowns,” stated Lucht. “We’re grateful for that.”
As leaders within the Small Business Administration, we’re proud to work with companies like Minburn Communications who go above and beyond to serve their communities. This Small Business Week, remember to do your part to support the businesses and people that drive the culture and economy of your hometown. Shop local, visit often and take the time to thank a business owner or entrepreneur.
To learn more about resources and opportunities available for rural businesses, visit www.sba.gov/rural
Dan Nordberg serves as the Small Business Administration’s National Director of Rural Affairs. Tom Salisbury is the Regional Administrator for SBA’s Region VII states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.