PUTNAM COUNTY, N.Y. - While the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a shocking toll on the world’s health and well-being, its impact on businesses and the economy has been devastating as well. Of course, businesses throughout Putnam County are no exception and many are reeling from the impact. However, four organizations—the Putnam County Economic Development Corp. (PCEDC), the Putnam Council Business Council, the County Tourism Agency and the Industrial Development Council (IDC)—are banding together in an effort to help local businesses not only survive the pandemic but thrive in its aftermath.
Kathleen Abels, president of the PCEDC, said the group is committed to helping county businesses survive and recover from the financial disaster incurred by shutdowns necessitated to diminish the spread of the virus.
“It’s a new world,” she said. “Our team is dedicated, and we are nimble enough to address changing needs in this unprecedented time. Main Street businesses are an essential part of the fabric of our community. We must make every effort to help them.”
The PCEDC is a non-profit organization funded by Putnam County that acts as the county’s external marketing agency for economic and employment development. Normally, the PCEDC works to attract appropriate new businesses, retain and grow employment opportunities and broaden the tax base to enhance the quality of life in Putnam County.
Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell joined Abels and her team on a conference call last Friday to brainstorm ideas for assisting local businesses in this difficult time.
“Putnam County relies on our Main Street economy to offset property taxes, provide employment opportunities and foster our caring community values,” Odell said. “These businesses constantly work behind the scenes to support our non-profits, including local sports clubs, veterans’ groups, cancer support events like Relay for Life and much, much more. They have always been there for our community, now we need to be there for them.”
Jenn Maher, president of the Putnam County Business Council, said businesses need help and they need it now.
“It’s pretty bad out there,” she said. “I haven’t heard of anyone receiving CARES Act money (federal stimulus package) yet. The bulk of the businesses I’ve talked to say they haven’t even heard back one way or the other.”
Maher said the four organizations, along with county legislators Amy Sayegh and Bill Goldman, have been meeting for a while, even before the pandemic, in an effort to bolster the local economy, so they had somewhat of a head start.
“We have been meeting for about a year, so we have upped those virtual meetings, and we have a weekly webinar with reports from elected officials on all levels of government, and we have different experts come in,” she said. “We’ve had Sen. Harckham and Congressman Maloney and are getting some good answers about what the heck is going on. We have been updating Putnam County businesses through emails and Facebook posts with that latest information about disaster relief, helping people fill out applications and formulate a plan.”
Maher said one of her concerns is for the small businesses that never caught up with technology before the pandemic struck. She said there are plenty of business owners who never established a social media presence or bothered to create a website. In the “new normal,” that could spell disaster.
“One of my major concerns is that a lot of businesses didn’t shift before COVID-19 in order to have a major online presence,” she said. “Now, we need to help them shift on a dime and create a new business model that will work in the new normal. You can’t have an antiquated method of doing business now.”
Maher added that she believes brick-and-motor retailers can survive; they just need to restructure their business models.
“It’s going to be a long time before people are comfortable sitting in a bar or restaurant next to other people,” she said.
She said the restaurants and delis that use their online presence for delivery service and curbside pickup have not only survived but in some cases have thrived.
“Savor [restaurant] in Mahopac is running a full takeout menu and delivery; Clocktower [in Brewster] and the Mahopac Inn are all doing it,” she said. “A lot of restaurants have shifted.”
Still, for some food-service entities, the challenges may be insurmountable.
“Big businesses are really hurting, too,” said Maher. “Like Villa Barone—all their weddings are canceled. They have huge overhead and had to lay off everybody. Will weddings ever be the same again?
Maher said it’s not just restaurants and food-service businesses that have been pivoting, and many others will, including the legal industry. They are incorporating videoconferencing. The whole of New York State has been in the Dark Age.”
“That industry will change,” she said. “You will see a lot more video court sessions.”
Abels said because of the rural nature of Putnam County, most of its businesses are very small and having to let employees go has been devastating.
“About 67 percent of businesses here have four or fewer employees; it’s mostly small business,” she said. “But these are people’s livelihoods. Everything is so connected. There are a lot of hospitality businesses. We are trying to do what we can to help them survive. Some won’t. There will be some triage.”
Abels said the four groups are trying to get the message out that there is help and provide businesses with resources they can use, such as informing them about Community Capital of New York, which has emergency express loans for up to $10,000.
“We are working in unity to communicate the message,” she said. “We have a COVID-19 research page on our website, putnamedc.org. It has small-business tips and a banner for related business resources. There are lots of links that you can click on for overviews, [loan] applications, videos and things like that. But they seem to change every minute.”
Abels said it is the unknown that is causing so much consternation in the business community and that is what they are trying their best to help with.
“They are agonizing over the uncertainty,” she said. “It’s the anxiety of ‘when is this going to stop? How long can I survive like this?’ They feel bad about having to furlough employees because these small businesses are like families. It’s heartbreaking.”
The groups have put together a business survey they are asking business owners to fill out. The collected data will be used to better help businesses throughout the crisis.
The survey features just 16 questions. So far, about 70 have been collected, but Abel said at least 250 are needed so “the data won’t be skewed.”
“We don’t want to shoot from the hip [with their guidance],” Abels said. “We need to identify small-business needs. We want to make good choices based on good data. It’s important for us to collect this information.”
To take the survey, go to putnamcountybusinesscouncil.com and click on the word “survey” in the column on the right-hand side of the page.
“You get success when people use their creativity and imagination,” Abels said. “Like selling family meals for a reasonable price. That creates loyalty for when things get back to normal. Using social media and online apps for when social distancing is required. It will accelerate trends that were already happening.”
Abels said the PCEDC remains grateful for the continued support of Putnam County and urges everyone to patronize local businesses. Below are a few suggestions:
• Thank essential businesses and their employees for remaining open to serve us. While most of us stay at home, these dedicated individuals are working hard to perform extra cleaning and other services to keep customers and employees safe
• Order take-out—many area restaurants deliver; patronize them as often you can
•Purchase gift cards for a friend or family member
• Tip more generously—help businesses retain their employees
• Shop Putnam/Local Online and buy what you can and help them remain open
• Spread the word! Go to social media pages and post a positive comment or recommendation, and share it with others
• Take an online class from local gyms, health clubs, and yoga studios
• Check area businesses’ websites and social media pages for updates and services
• Check area arts and non-profit organization’s websites and social media for additional online content
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