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Entrepreneur starts #CedarValleyStrong to help local businesses weather COVID-19

Entrepreneur starts #CedarValleyStrong to help local businesses weather COVID-19

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Heath Wilken owns and operates Cedar Falls Laser Engraving at his home in Cedar Falls.

CEDAR FALLS — Heath Wilken was saddened to hear a massage parlor owner say on Facebook she had to effectively shutter her business due to decreased numbers of customers as people attempt to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus.

“When you lose, say, 30% of your business, that might be enough to shut it down,” Wilken said. “That’s exactly the thing I don’t want to happen.”

A business owner himself — he owns Cedar Falls Laser Engraving — Wilken knows how important a steady cash flow is to a business, especially in the midst of increasing social isolation. So on Sunday, after seeing a similar effort in a different state, Wilken kicked off #CedarValleyStrong, an initiative to “support the businesses you love” as the virus spreads, he said.

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He noted locally owned businesses of all stripes were “going to see a decline in visitors,” and asked people to order food, shop online at those businesses or buy gift cards to use later.

“Gift cards equal immediate cash flow,” Wilken said. “And cash flow is the lifeblood of our local businesses.”

His business directory — currently housed on his own website, cedarfallslaser.com — already had six restaurants, two coffee shops, seven retail stores and two professional services listed, and more were being added as of Monday, Wilken said. Those wanting to add their own business were asked to email him at cedarfallslaserengraving@gmail.com.

“They’ve already lost business, and it’s going to continue,” Wilken said. “If you get cash in the pockets of those small businesses — you’re buying something, or something to use in the future — that’s going to keep them going.”

He’s been promoting the directory on social media using the #CedarValleyStrong hashtag, and has also gotten interest from Cedar Falls Community Main Street as well as Grow Cedar Valley to help with the initiative.

“This is kind of a one-stop shop, so we can watch out for each other,” Wilken said.

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Cedar Valley residents will still need food delivered, coffee, clothing and services. They will still have events like birthdays. Wilken just wants to remind people to buy local in any instance they could.

“The impact is still unfolding,” he said. “This is hopefully going to be helping.”

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