Leading Through A Crisis

The CEP’s Kevin Sheilley scores high marks from area business executives for his leadership during the COVID-19 outbreak.

In March, when news about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, led to area businesses closing their doors or finding a new way to operate, Kevin Sheilley’s first thoughts were about how to best plan ahead.

“As it began to become clear this was going to be something, it was ‘we need to be proactive, not reactive,’” explains Sheilley, president and chief executive officer of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP). “I think the job of any leader is providing hope. That becomes especially true during a crisis. That doesn’t mean we sugarcoat things, but that we’re able to provide a path to get through this and if we have to make sacrifices, they are the right sacrifices so people can have a belief they are moving towards something and not running away from something.”

He is very proud that the CEP team quickly launched its Get. Gather. Go. initiative to help businesses navigate the loan program established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) to help them keep paying workers.

“We saw that as Congress was passing the CARES Act that the Paycheck Protect Program (PPP) could be a huge opportunity,” he recalls. “And it was going to be incumbent on businesses to be ready to go quickly. That bill got signed by the president on a Friday and we were ready to launch on Monday. We also began working very closely with our lenders.”

The work paid off, as 1 out of 8 local businesses received a loan through the PPP. The state average was 1 in 25 and the national average was 1 in 19.

The CEP also facilitated more than 30 webinars since the onset of restrictions and, in mid-May, was focusing on a second round of PPP loans and on loan forgiveness.

“We’re helping people understand how to start planning to get as much of that loan forgiven as they can, to understand how to work their cash flow, how to look at sales and marketing differently, how to deal with the stresses,” Sheilley explains. “And, we called around 2,800 businesses over six weeks, less than 1,500 of those CEP partners, to find out, ‘How are you doing?’, ‘What can we do to assist you?’ and [to say] ‘Let me make sure you’re aware of these resources.’”

“Kevin and his team have been very response driven,” offers Angie Lewis, chair of the CEP board of directors and owner of Angie Lewis State Farm Insurance. “They created a plan of action and knew they must stay focused on the goals of best helping the community as they also look ahead to solving the next and most pressing problems. Kevin communicated with transparency by providing honest and accurate descriptions of reality—being as clear as humanly possible about what he knew, what to anticipate, and what it meant for the CEP team and our community. The board is so proud of what they have accomplished during this unique time.”

Navroz Saju, CEO and President of HDG Hotels, says “Kevin and Team CEP once again demonstrated support, leadership, and genuine concern for our community and its business leaders.”

Saju adds that Sheilley and others from his team were “readily available, routinely checked in on us, and offered a significant amount of communication and training to those who needed additional assistance navigating the past few months.”

“I’m very, very bullish about the short, middle and long-term future of our community,” Sheilley asserts. “It doesn’t mean we’re not going to have struggles. It doesn’t mean there is not going to be hurt, but I think there is tremendous upside. We just all have to keep moving forward. There can be no retreat. There can be no standing still. And that’s really going to be the key to keeping our community successful.”

“I think Kevin and his team at the CEP have done an incredible job helping local businesses navigate this crisis,” remarks Todd Rudnianyn, president/CEO of Neighborhood Storage. “He has been proactive, communicative, strategic, and perhaps most important—he has stayed positive. You can always feel Kevin pulling for us. With all the doom and gloom out there, it has been nice to have someone at the helm who you feel really believes in this community.”

To learn more, visit www.ocalacep.com.

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