Municipal leaders and the largest lobbying groups in the Lower Hudson Valley are looking to grants, incentives and other new avenues to revive the downstate economy and combat the long-term effects of the coronavirus.
Six months after Washington D.C. passed the CARES Act and unlocked billions of dollars in loans and incentives through the Small Business Administration, key industries and many small businesses across the region are still struggling.
The state Department of Labor says the accommodations and food service industry alone has lost 311,100 jobs since last year.
Construction continues at the new Edge-on-Hudson development in Sleepy Hollow, Sept. 8, 2020. (Photo: Mark Vergari/The Journal News)
Municipal leaders and lobbying groups in Westchester are looking for new ways to not only stop the bleeding, but to reinforce the regional economy for what promises to be several difficult years. They are looking at everything from grants to help businesses address increased operational costs to ways for health care providers to seek expanded telehealth benefits.
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The economy has been so weakened since the pandemic hit in March that New York state has paid out over $44.5 billion in benefits.
At the county level, Westchester County Executive George Latimer recently announced a $10 million grant initiative known as Business FIRST (financial investments for recovery and a sustainable tomorrow) geared to aid small businesses and nonprofits in Westchester.
“The county office of economic development does recognize how small businesses and nonprofits are essential to our economy and our quality of life,” Latimer said at a press conference.
Westchester County began accepting applications for the grant program on Monday and will accept applications through September 30. Businesses and nonprofits that demonstrate revenue losses of at least 25% since March 7 due to the coronavirus may be eligible for grants of up to $49,000.
Latimer announced in late July that 220 county employees took a voluntary buyout made available to address a potential county budget gap of $250 million as a result of the pandemic.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer, left, speaks with Leslie Gordon of Feeding Westchester, John Ravitz of the Westchester Business Council, and Susan Fox of the Westchester Institute for Human Development during the 2018 annual breakfast of the Westchester Business Council in Tarrytown. (Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News)
According to New York State Department of Labor, the leisure and hospitality industry, which consists of the arts, entertainment and recreation, remains the most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Deb Milone, president of the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce, a trade organization for small businesses in Westchester and Putnam, said small businesses need good weather and a decline in event cancellations in order to recover from the pandemic.
“It’s going to be a wait-and-see to see how the next few months pan out,” Milone said. “Now you do have the holidays coming up. I think there’s going to be a big push for people supporting their local businesses for holiday shopping, this year.”
She said county governments can only do so much for Main Street retailers and restaurants in upper Westchester and Putnam.
The largest business groups in Westchester say that given the link between county and municipal governments and businesses, based on the tax revenue they generate, returning to normal will depend on the ability of governments to create a business-friendly climate during the recovery.
The Business Council of Westchester, one of the largest lobbying groups in Westchester is focused on lobbying Congress for municipal aid and civil liability shields. The group has worked with the Partnership of New York City and the Long Island Association to call for federal funds for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as well as the state and local governments.
New York City, Long Island and Westchester comprise 6% of the nation’s GDP, the three groups said in a letter to President Donald Trump. The MTA is looking at major service cuts, but mass transit needs to function for the good of businesses across New York, they said.
“We are really focused, especially in Washington, to get another relief bill for local governments and we’ve been stressing that Washington needs to deal with liability issues,” said John Ravitz, CEO of the Business Council.
Ravitz said liability shields, which would curtail a businesses’ civil liability in the case of coronavirus-related litigation, would help businesses of all sizes. Heading into the colder autumn months, a liability shield may help businesses like restaurants begin to increase to 100% occupancy.
The Westchester County Association, a group that advocates for regional hospitals and the health care industry, contends that the economic recovery of the county depends largely on that industry.
The WCA plans to advocate for expanded telehealth coverage by insurance carriers, sustainable energy policies that “reward” clean energy buildings, and standardized approaches to 5G and broadband infrastructure deployment, among other strategies.
“The advocacy agenda and initiatives outlined in this report are the result of a collaborative effort of some of the region’s most dedicated professionals from business, nonprofit, education, labor and government,” said Michael Romita, CEO of the Westchester County Association.
The WCA is working with the Greater New York Hospital Association and the Suburban Hospital Alliance.
Mario Marroquin covers real estate and economic development. Click here to see his latest stories. He can be reached at [email protected] or @mars3vega
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