CATSKILL — As Greene County moves into phase 2, officials are working together to provide resources for the business community and plan for the future.
The county released its Crisis Response & Recovery Plan on Monday, which focuses on workforce development, growing industries, investing in infrastructure and establishing downtown and community centers as creative hubs.
The plan was developed by Greene County Department of Economic Development, Planning & Tourism, Great Northern Catskill of Greene County, Greene County Economic Development Corporation, Greene County Industrial Development Agency and Greene County Chamber of Commerce.
“Throughout the past 90 days of the pandemic, this team has worked diligently to provide Greene County businesses and residents with the most up-to-date information and guidance available from state and regional authorities through daily eNewsletters and social media posts, and a robust website presence on GreeneGovernment.com, BuyInGreene.com, GreeneCountyEDC.com and GreatNorthernCatskills.com,” according to a statement from Greene County Economic Development Corporation.
The plan has been an ongoing effort, Tourism Director Heather Bagshaw said.
“We have been working on it for a couple of months now,” she said. “We are working closely on educating and providing information to all of our businesses throughout the entire process from the moment the governor announced the stay at home order and we started working remotely businesses started to shutdown.”
The recovery team held weekly meetings, sometimes more than one a week, Greene County Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Friedman said.
“We were working to guide businesses through this, working with elected officials and other agencies at state and federal levels to craft things to help our businesses,” he said.
Focus groups were held with various sectors including specialty retail, resorts and lodging, restaurants and hospitality, personal services, construction and service contractors, manufacturing and distribution, arts, recreation and entertainment and nonprofit organizations.
“Knowing what their challenges and needs were, we developed this economic recovery plan,” Friedman said. “We are working to make sure our employees and businesses are ready to go as each phase opens.”
The group has been providing businesses with information about grant and loan opportunities, Bagshaw said, and launched a new website called TakeOutInGreene.com for consumers to support their local restaurants.
Some of these financial support options include Central Hudson’s Back to Business program, which offers small businesses up to $10,000 in grants.
To qualify, the business must have up to 20 employees, be a Central Hudson account in good standing and operate or plan to reopen when the pause order is lifted. Central Hudson secured $1 million for the program and funding will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Bank of Greene County is one of the participating banks for the Back to Business grant program.
The New York Forward Loan Fund is available to small businesses, nonprofits and small landlords that did not receive a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration through either its Paycheck Protection Program or its Economic Injury Disaster Loans. These five-year loans are designated for small businesses with less than 20 employees.
“As we begin to open up, we continue to work with businesses to make sure they have information on how to open safely,” Bagshaw said.
All businesses, including essential businesses, must develop a COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan, but these plans are not required to be submitted to a state agency for approval, according to governor.ny.gov.
The state has made available a template for safety plans, Bagshaw said, but businesses are not required to use it.
“You can create your own plan based on the needs of your business,” she said.
Business owners have to address how their employees and customers will be able to maintain social distancing while in their store, Bagshaw said.
On the tourism side, the department has started a new campaign called Little Things MAGNIFIED.
“[We created it] as an attraction to visitors and are reminding them that during this time it was the little things we all missed,” Bagshaw said. “Like taking a walk with friends, dining out with friends, taking small vacations with friends. We can slowly come back to those little things and Greene County is a place to come to for those little things that we make greater.”
The county will deploy the Little Things marketing campaign to regions that have opened, Bagshaw said.
The tourism department emailed a survey in May to more than 25,000 Greene County travelers to see how the industry will bounce back.
“Sixty-five percent of the audience said they would travel within first month of reopening,” Bagshaw said. “Ninety-two percent will take road trips first.”
Eating out and outdoor reaction were among the top activities that travelers are looking forward to, Bagshaw said.
Greene County Economic Development and Tourism Director Karl Heck said he believes short day trips will make a comeback. Greene County’s economy depends on tourism and many summer events have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not having some of those events is going to hurt,” Heck said. “As things begin to reopen, we definitely think people, particularly downstate, their first trip is going to be a relatively short road trip type of thing and they may be more inclined to come here.”
Air travel is likely to take longer to recover, Heck said.
Other activities conducted by the team during the pandemic included a survey of more than 650 businesses on what types of modifications they thought they would need to make to be able to reopen safely and creating an emergency loan fund.
The program included two types of loans: one for small businesses with 10 employees or fewer, to retain or restore those employees, and another for microenterprise businesses with five employees or fewer, to help hire new employees. Both loan options have zero interest and zero payments due for the first six months.