Hospitality industry suffers most from the revived pandemic, federal director told in Rogers visit

FILE -- Sherry Puttkammer, owner of The Dotted Pig in downtown Rogers, places new necklaces Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, on a rack as she begins to fill her store with new merchandise as the shopping seasons change. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

ROGERS -- The hospitality industry -- hotels, restaurants and other leisure-related businesses -- still bears the brunt of the resurgent covid pandemic, local business leaders told the director of the federal Small Business Administration in Rogers on Friday.

Director Isabella Casillas Guzman came to Northwest Arkansas at the invitation of Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. Guzman called Womack an important congressional ally of the agency in budget battles in Washington. Womack is a former mayor of Rogers with a history of supporting small business dating back to his time as mayor.

Guzman and Womack presided over a round-table with 15 local representative including business executives, regional administrators of the agency and other business support groups and chamber of commerce presidents from Fort Smith, Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale.

The round-table took place after the administrator and congressman toured Mundo-Tech, a manufacturing company that produces specialty tubing and pipes for the aerospace, defense and commercial airline industries.

"My biggest concern is the hospitality industry," said Raymond Burns, Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce president in his remarks at the round-table. "They're not going to recover this year."

The Small Business Administration has a long history of helping small local businesses in the Northwest Arkansas region, but those efforts hugely expanded during the covid pandemic that began last year, Womack said.

Mundo Harbaugh, president of Mundo-Tech, agreed. The agency helped his company get through the post-9/11 drop-off in commercial aviation manufacturing in 2001 and was vital again in helping his company keep skilled workers during the covid pandemic with Paycheck Protection Program lending, he said.

Northwest Arkansas has an outstanding network of groups such as the chamber and business organization at the University of Arkansas to help local businesses navigate government programs, helping both the businesses and her agency in getting assistance where it is most needed, Guzman told the group.