Roane State helping small businesses meet COVID-19 challenges

ROCKWOOD – The COVID-19 pandemic has affected two entities affiliated with Roane State Community College that help area small businesses, but the staffs are meeting those challenges to provide information about available assistance.

“The world of small business has been turned upside down,” said Jutta Bangs, director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC) in Oak Ridge, which the community college helps sponsor.

“The impact on many of the businesses is devastating,” said Holly Hanson, director of the Cumberland Business Incubator (CBI), managed by Roane State on the college’s Cumberland County campus. “It’s a tough time to start a business, and a tough time to grow some.”

The CBI leases space in the 10,000-square-foot building to startup businesses and helps create business plans and other services to assist entrepreneurs.

Both the CBI and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center offer counseling and advice to small business owners and are adapting to the new normal – where many businesses have been ordered to close or implement social distancing rules.

Bangs said she’s been advising businesses on how to apply for disaster loans and is learning more about the $2.2 trillion CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act and what potential help those funds might provide.

She said those in need of assistance should visit or

Teresa Duncan, Roane State’s vice president of workforce and community development, said many are unaware that Bangs’ office is connected to the college. Duncan said requests for appointments with Bangs’ office have more than doubled since the virus outbreak, and she is keeping area Chambers of Commerce informed about developments.

“She is in the heat of all this (the outbreak’s effects on businesses),” Duncan said.

To contact TSBDC, please call (865) 483-2668 or email As everyone is adapting to working in different ways, the TSBDC has moved to remote counseling. Staff is well equipped to work with clients by phone, email or video conferencing.

Hanson said she’s using Zoom technology for her nine-week entrepreneurship class, “In Business, Now What?” She said guest speakers join via Zoom also.

She said her coaching sessions have also moved to Zoom technology and they are going well, with new clients signing up, “some from quite a distance that might not have made an appointment if they would have had to travel for the coaching session.”

“Tenants in the Cumberland Business Incubator are still working to meet their clients’ needs,” Hanson said. “Those that were not already working online are now doing so whenever possible.”

For one of the tenant businesses, the recent approval of pediatric teletherapy services by TennCare Medicaid has ensured children with special needs can continue receiving their therapy, and therapists can remain employed, she said.

For some, the pandemic shutdown has given them the chance to work “ON the business versus always working IN the business with no time to step back and develop a strategic plan,” Hanson said in an email.

It’s also provided time to review contracts and implement new accounting software, she said.

“Entrepreneurs that have day jobs and their business is a side hustle in most cases are doing better than those where their business was their only means of support,” Hanson said. “Some are anxious to see the results of their application for U.S. SBA (Small Business Administration) disaster loans and feel this will help them decide which direction to go in when they are able to go back to the old normal.”

For more information about the Cumberland Business Incubator, contact and (931) 456-4910 or

Roane State is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has locations in Roane, Campbell, Cumberland, Fentress, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, and Scott counties as well as a branch campus in Oak Ridge.

For more information, visit or call (865) 882-4554. 

Remember, eligible adults can now attend Roane State tuition-free with the new Reconnect grant. Learn more at

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