Aniya Thomas, WITF News
An economic development agency says a 2021 survey during the COVID-19 pandemic showed 40% of businesses that responded had no emergency plan or online shopping websites to help them stay afloat.
Now, SEDA Council of Governments is doing the survey again, with hopes to learn the state of businesses and their needs during the pandemic.
The Lewisburg-based agency says it aims to build strong economies and communities by partnering with, investing in, and revitalizing local companies. Betsy Lockwood, with the agency, said this survey is a tool that can help.
Lockwood said they’ve helped hundreds of businesses with information from last year’s survey, by providing resources and referring them to state and federal programs for financial assistance.
This year, Lockwood said they’re already hearing about several issues businesses are facing.
“What I’m getting from that feedback, mostly as anecdotal information, is that there’s issues with the workforce, there’s issues with supply chain, and there’s issues with the increased cost of goods and services. So, I’m expecting to see those types of issues echoed in this survey as well,” she said.
After the first survey, SEDA Council of Governments helped distribute over $40 million in relief funds to counties, municipalities, businesses and nonprofits. In partnership with their member counties, the agency helped over 800 businesses with COVID-19 relief funds during the past year and a half.
Alloy Kitchen was one business that received a COVID-19 loan from the agency, which was provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce through the CARES act’s stimulus funds, to buy kitchen equipment for the restaurant they opened in February 2022.
Lori Sabatino, co-owner of Alloy Kitchen, said without the loan of $275,000, they wouldn’t have been able to open their business so soon or at all, on the scale of their dreams.
“It did help this come to light,” Sabatino said of her business. “We put in a lot of our own money, we had to do a build-out of the kitchen space that we’re in and we used everything that we had to do that. Without this loan we couldn’t have completed the project. So, it really helped to pull it all together for us.”
Lockwood said to help more businesses they are partnering with American Red Cross, Bucknell University’s Small Business Development Center and Advance Central PA to create emergency business plans, set up online shopping and informational websites, and try to help the workforce pipeline by informing high school students about the direction of the job market and the job demand as they enter the workforce.
Lockwood said she hopes this year’s survey provides more quantifiable data, and that businesses gain an awareness of the services that provide resources to help them succeed.
“A lot of these businesses don’t realize that there are a number of organizations that provide free services to businesses in order for them to stay and grow here in central Pennsylvania,” Lockwood said. “And our job is really to identify those issues and opportunities and refer them to the specific organization that can help.”
Businesses in Centre, Clinton, Columbia, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder, and Union Counties can fill out the 10-minute survey at seda-cog.org. The deadline is May 16