Courtenay D. Mercer, PP, AICP
Executive Director, Downtown New Jersey
March 20, 2020
Downtown New Jersey is providing a series of virtual opportunities for downtown managers, economic development professionals, and public officials to exchange ideas about best practices related to downtown economic development in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
At our first exchange on Friday, March 20, 2020, participants shared concerns for small businesses and their employees, questions for clarity related to closures, and policy and legislative needs to further assist small businesses. Audio of the full exchange can be accessed at this link, and below is a summary of the main points from the discussion.
Concerns for businesses and workers:
- With diminished income, small business owners are having to make tough choices between paying their personal mortgage/rent, commercial lease, business loan, or their employees (among other expenses). Small businesses need relief for mortgage payments, business loans, etc. They also need professional advice related to financial management.
- In South Orange, they have a list of professionals willing to provide services on a pro bono basis. When sharing the list, they caveat that they are not recommending any particular professional.
- Paterson commissioned a Small Business Task Force, including the chamber, BIDs, Passaic County Economic Development, and the Small Business Resource Center.
- The Westfield Foundation is looking into creating a relief fund.
- There are two GoFundMe campaigns in South Orange/Maplewood to assist seniors and Title 1 lunch families. There was discussion about creating one for small businesses, but there was concern about administering such a fund fairly and with limited human resources. Some businesses are setting up their own crowdfunding campaigns.
- Some larger communities are considering bonding to create a Small Business Relief Fund. Others are already talking to banks and anchor institutions about relief funds. Not all communities have the capacity to administer a fund though. It would be good to pool resources and have one entity collect donations and administer a fund. DNJ will reach out to some foundations to start the dialogue.
- DNJ will look into creating their own Small Business Task Force to provide advice.
- BIDs are providing advice to small businesses about how to conduct business online, updating Google business listings, create/update website, selling gift certificates online, using social media, using delivery services, etc.
- There is great concern for workers that derive income primarily from tips. (This feeds into the larger policy conversation about moving away from tip-based income overall.)
- There are concerns about the impact on undocumented workers who are not eligible to collect unemployment.
Need for clarity:
- What businesses are considered “essential”? (Pennsylvania has posted the document. NJ should create something similar.)
- Should childcare providers stay open to serve children of essential workers?
- If federal and state employees are working from home, how will programs be administered?
Potential policy initiatives:
- Many BIDs are being asked to cancel/postpone next quarter assessments. BID services are still essential during this time though, providing cleaning and security services, marketing for the district’s businesses, and advice to business owners. The Legislature should consider providing gap funding for lost assessment dollars so BIDs can continue to function. Perhaps we could tap into long unexpended UEZ funds for this (even though not all BIDs are UEZ).
- Legislation similar to A3859/S2276 to suspend foreclosures and evictions for commercial properties.
- Legislation to support undocumented workers and tip-based workers.
- Support A3844 related applicability of business interruption insurance for COVID-19. The legislation does not appear to be moving.
- State Sales Tax holiday
- The NYC BID Association released a COVID-19 policy platform. The DNJ Policy & Leg Committee is working on something similar.
Downtown New Jersey has also created a Resource Page where we are posting important updates related to legislative and policy initiatives in response to COVID 19, as well as resources from peers and experts. For more information, visit www.downtownnj.com/policy-watch-covid/.