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Main Street Preservation Grants with Marian Moskowitz

Podcast published: May 7, 2020

The Chester Countys Commissioners set up a $5M fund to establish the Main Street Preservation program. This program allows for grants of up to $25,000 for the county’s small businesses and agriculture enterprises impacted by COVID-19. Here to talk about it with us today is Marian Moskowitz, a recently elected Chester County Commissioner, Chair of the Board of Commissioners, and Chair of the Economic Development Council.


Show Notes

Main Street Preservation Grant

  • The Board of Commissioners decided to take CARES money and put $5M towards the grant program.
  • It’s designed to help small businesses with revenue of $500,000 or less.
    • Grant is up to $25,000
    • Award money is based on location, expenses, amounts of assistance received already, and other factors
  • The County wants to help existing businesses stay open and in business, so that those businesses are ready to go as the county starts to open up.

Apply: May 11th, 5am-9pm. Apply for the Main Street Preservation grant here.

What kind information do businesses need to apply?

  • 2019 income statement, provide expenses and income details.
  • If you’re seasonal, they’ll look at the 2nd quarter of last year. 
  • Businesses started in 2020 do not qualify.

What has the county been doing since COVID-19 hit the USA (a brief timeline)?

  • The Chester County Health Dept. began monitoring the COVID-19 situation in February.
  • Once news came in, the County leadership came up with a plan, which was ready by March 13th. 
  • The County held its first COVID-19 town hall on Mar 17th
  • The team at the County has worked hard to keep the local business community informed
  • March 19th – took over the management of health needs of Delaware Co too. 
  • Last week, the County started a Business Task Force.
    • Designed to get input for reopening / repairing / restoring community
    • Core team
      • Chambers of Commerce, tourism groups, EDC
    • Advisory Team
      • Different industries
      • Restaurants, gyms, agricultural, etc.
    • Always good to have a think tank

Is there a message that the county would like to share with local businesses?

  • In terms of preparation or sustainability, businesses should start thinking about the hard questions.
    • What does an employer do when an employee is afraid to come back to work?
  • One big thing is communication: Have real dialog with your staff because you’re all in this together. 
  • Reach out and see how they’re doing. 
  • They are the key to getting you back in business again. 

Intro: Hey everybody. And welcome to another episode of Start Local, a podcast focused on helping businesses in Chester County, PA, and the greater Philadelphia area as we try to navigate through this COVID-19 economy. 

Joe Casabona: My name’s Joe Casabona. And I’m here with my co-host, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you? 

Liam Dempsey: Joe, Fantastic. Always a pleasure. 

Joe Casabona: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we are honored today to have our guest Marian Moskowitz. She is a Chester County commissioner. And she serves as the chair of the board of commissioners, as well as the chair of the economic development council. Mariane, how are you today? 

Marian Moskowitz: I’m great. Thank you. 

Joe Casabona: Thanks so much for joining us. I know that you have you started in January. Is that right? 

Marian Moskowitz: That’s right. January 6th. I was [Inaudible 0:50.09].

Joe Casabona: Wow! So it’s a little bit of a trial by fire here. But before we get into our main topic, which is going to be the Chester County Main Street Preservation grant program, why don’t you give us and the listeners an idea of what your day to day has looked like, and kind of a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Marian Moskowitz: So, you know, I took office on January 6th. It didn’t give me a whole lot of time before COVID-19 took over my world and all of our worlds in County and in life in general. But, my day to day changes. I think I have it all under control, and the next day I wake up and there are a hundred emails, and problems, and situations to resolve. So I start pretty early. I end late. But I do feel every day like we’re making more progress. We’re getting closer and closer to an end game. Whenever that will be, I don’t know, but I just feel like we’re on the path. That’s kind of my day is what. Wherever it takes me, it is very flexible. 

Joe Casabona: Fantastic. That’s kind of how my wife and I feel about having our kids. We think that we’ve got it under control and then things change.

Marian Moskowitz: That’s right.

Liam Dempsey: Well, that certainly has been the case, particularly with government support. At many different levels, government agencies at federal state and local have rolled out different programs to support businesses of all sizes. And the one that we talked about recently on this show was the PPP program and how businesses were trying to get money out of the government, the federal government. 

But Marian, and you just recently through the Chester County government launched the Main Street Preservation Grant that really is targeted and focused on supporting businesses in Chester County that perhaps did not or were not able to capitalize on the opportunities through other programs. Would you spend some time sharing with us the details of that new program, that new grant system, and how it works?

Marian Moskowitz: Sure. I mean it came about, we’ve been watching these federal programs and some state programs come to be. And while they’re fabulous and they put money out there, some of them are loans which have to be replayed back, some are grants. But there’s so much need. It’s just, it’s overwhelming. And I think you can see that by the systems the computers can’t handle it all just like unemployment, I mean they go down and they go up and you have to try to get your application in. And it’s very stressful on businesses and people. We could see this need building for these smaller businesses that aren’t in the know, That aren’t in the economic development council, aren’t part of organizations that lead them to these paths.

And then some of them had banks that weren’t really working on PPP and all these other things. So there were a lot of issues related to it. And I think when you look at the whole picture, it really affects the small Main Street businesses which are our life bread in Chester County. I mean, they’re so critical to everything we do. So we decided to take some of the CARES money that we received and put 5 million of it towards a Main Street Preservation Grant program. 

And the idea behind it is to help these small businesses that have revenues of 500, 000 or less a year. And our low, our grant is up to $25, 000. And so we’ll look at the 2019 expenses, and we will award grant money based on a lot of factors. Some of it is location, some of it is how much you’ve received from other programs. And so we will kind of adjust for that. 

But the idea is to give these businesses some money to fix up their facilities because some of them are going to change. Restaurants are going to change. A lot of the world as we know it will change to help them with PPE’s they’re going to need. 

I mean a county’s job, a commissioner’s job is to work for the health and safety of the community. And, you know, health can mean a lot of different things. I was on the board of the Phoenixville Community Health Foundation. That meant one thing. But the health of the community right now, at this moment in time is dealing with getting our businesses back up and running. So when we get into the yellow light and the green light, we are ready to go. And we can start bringing our employees back. And that’s the ultimate goal.

So we started this program. We put $5M into it. Grants of up to $25,000 for businesses with revenues under $500 dollars. We are actually going to do a webinar tomorrow morning at 10:00, and it will be streamed live on Facebook at the County and the Chester County Economic Development Council. So you’ll be able to watch it another time. But applications, the grant applications will be submitted on May 11 from 5am to 9pm, and then we’re going to close it.

I really hope that we, I’m sure we’re going to get rid of all the money, which is a good thing because we want it in the hands of small businesses. And hopefully this will begin the process of them thinking ahead, paying their rent, paying what they need to pay to get moving. And I feel really good that business will start coming back slowly In the next couple of months. It’s just been really hard because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I think there might be more programs coming out there but, we thought this was a moment in time that we needed to take control and make sure that these small small businesses have the funds they need to survive. We don’t want them to have to close and then reopen and then close again, because we don’t think they, a lot of them could sustain themselves. So, we want to make sure that when they do open, they can stay open. And so that’s what led us to this grant program.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I think that’s really fantastic. And I think that there, you know, the criteria really is designed to help small businesses because the federal programs are great. But I think these are designed to really help, like you said, the small businesses that really probably need it the most. And so that people who are listening are prepared to put in their application, what kind of information should they have ready to go on May 11th?

Marian Moskowitz: So they’ll need, It is on our website by the way on our [chesco.org] website is the application. And so isIit also on the Chester county economic development council. It’s pretty easy. It’s basic information. You take your 2019 income statement and you provide the answers to the questions about your expenses. And if you’re seasonal, we’re going to look at the second quarter of last year because we want to be fair to those seasonal employers as well. 

We’ve tried to cover a lot of things. Look, we’re not perfect. And i’m sure there are things that we’re going to miss and forget but, hopefully we can straighten those out along the way. So they will need that information. If you started in business just this year, you’re not eligible. So there are some things but, the criteria is on there. It’s pretty easy. It’ll take no time to fill it out. We wanted to make it as easy as possible.

Joe Casabona: Fantastic. And we’ll have a link to that and everything that we’re talking about here over at the show notes over at [startlocal.co]. 

Marian Moskowitz: Terrific. That’s terrific.

Liam Dempsey: And just to clarify that the podcast, I’m sorry, the webinar that Marian, that you referenced will be before this show airs. So the folks will still be able to watch it online on the Chester County website, it sounded like. So, that recording will be available, but they won’t have it live.

Marian Moskowitz: That’s right. That’s exactly right. 

Liam Dempsey: Excellent. 

Marian Moskowitz: And they have, but they have to submit on May 11th. That’s the key. That is the trick. 

Liam Dempsey: And that is Monday, I believe it is.

Marian Moskowitz: That’s a good question. I’ve lost track of time. I don’t know what day. It’s half the time. It is Monday. 

Liam Dempsey: Marian, you said that every day brings new challenges and everything is a new to-do list for you. And certainly putting together the kind of program that the Main Street Preservation Grant is, Is not something that is done in a short afternoon. Can you tell us a little bit about the timeline with respect to COVID-19 in Chester County and how you and your colleagues and your team have been responding to it, and dealing with it, and supporting the businesses and folks who call Chester county home?

Marian Moskowitz: Sure. So back in February, mid February, our health department started to really, really pay attention to this covid situation coming across the ocean in the country. And we activated our coop plans, the county operation plan. And in that, we decided who would be essential workers and who wouldn’t and how we would start that. So, thank goodness. We had done that because on March 13th, we went on essential services only and we were discouraging large gatherings. We were kind of the first in the area that the governor hadn’t required that they do it and we did it on March 13th.

And on March 17th, we had our first town hall for businesses just to explain to them what’s available to them, some of the deadlines about the low interest loans, the SBA, et cetera. 

And we had our second town hall for businesses on March 27th, and then another one on April 2nd. So we have tried really hard to keep the business community informed as much as possible. I think in these kind of situations, more is better. And giving as much information as you can to the community both business and general community makes them feel a little bit better because they know what’s happening. And so keeping that dialogue going is critical. 

On March 19th, in between those town hall meetings, we took over the health needs of Delaware County as well. So everything was in transition, but we were focused on making sure that the community and the business community knew what was available to them. So, I just thought that was interesting, well given the whole range of things. I mean I started January 6th, and mid February we were already working on operation plan. And so it was just kind of interesting. I have a lot of experience at crisis mode. I’m not quite sure whether I know how to be a commissioner yet, but we’re gonna. I mean, this is part of my job now, but we’re also keeping the business of the county going. So it’s just been very interesting. But I think you’ll see that we were really far ahead of her getting out there to our business community because we know they are the lifeline to Chester County’s economic engine. It’s not just the businesses. It’s the agricultural community as well. And I don’t want to forget them because they are so critical to our economic prosperity in Chester County.

So, I mean, it’s interesting. We were moving pretty quickly in the whole process. Just last, late last week, we announced the formation of a task force, a business task force, which is designed to provide local input into reopening, repairing, and restoring Chester County’s economy. It will be made up of two groups.

The first group, the lead group, is what we call the core team, and they’ll be made up of organizations that service the entire community. You know, such as your chambers, your tourism groups. You’re the county planning commission, economic development council, etc. That will be the core group.

And then the next group under that will be the advisory teams. And they will be made up of different industries around the county and we’re going to try to make it as expansive as possible, you know, for restaurants to gyms to agriculture to industry to everything to make sure that we’re all on the same boat. As I mentioned before, we’re going to use this as a way to see what their needs are. Do they need PPE’s? How can we work together to make sure they have what they need? It’s going to be very important when they start to reconfigure what their business looks like not only physically, but in general. We have to really be creative and think outside the box. And I think it’s always good to have a think tank where you can put great minds together. People that are in that industry, we can’t tell them how to change, we can only be the conduit for them to have the conversation. And we think it’s really critical now to start that process. So, I’m very excited about this program, just as I am about the Main Street Preservation fund. It’s exciting things happening in a world of doom and gloom. We have to be excited about something. 

Joe Casabona: That’s really fantastic. I mean, you mentioned that, you know, it seemed that your response has been ahead of the curve. And just like being here and witnessing what’s been going on, I have to agree because my wife is a nurse at Paoli and, you know, people are like, how are things there? Have they been hit hard? And honestly, I believe that the response from the governor and the county has made it so that we’ve been able to mitigate this really well. And the hospital has a great system in place. And so I think, you know, I just, I want to commend you and the rest of the council for their work because it shows. I can see it as a resident of Chester County.

Marian Moskowitz: Well, first, let me thank your wife because my daughter is a nurse as well. And it’s tough duty. In general, it’s tough duty, and thank her for me. I appreciate all those first responders and health care workers today. We, you know, sometimes we take them for granted and we should never do that. But it’s not just me or the count or the commissioners. You know, we have a team. And we are all in sync and rolling together, which is really important. You know, we didn’t know how to work with each other. And we came on, we had only been there a month on new relationships but, the team at the County is just incredible. I mean, we have a great administrator, Bobby Cagle had holds us all together. Our health department, our emergency operations, they’re just the top in the state. There are only very few counties that have their own health department, let alone really extraordinarily one. We are very lucky. 

So, it takes a village as they say. And, we have a fabulous one. I’m so proud of all of our employees and our staff and our department heads. And, we’re all working together to make things happen.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. I just want to second Joe’s thanks and,really to commend you and your entire team for the communications. As you say, there’s so few things that are predictable in this COVID-19 world that regular communication from government and local government, particularly folks like yourselves, even it’s to say, we don’t know. And I’m not saying that your team is saying that all the time at all, but even that nobody has an idea of what next steps are, it’s still really, really helpful because, okay, now we know. Nobody knows or the county has a plan and this is what they’re rolling out. They’re rolling out the Main Street Preservation, whatever it is. So that communication is great. 

And being on a show like ours is really, really valuable to certainly Joe and I as local business owners. But, to others who, you know, see that you are out in the community and you’re working as hard as you can and communicating as candidly as you can. So I’m really grateful for that.

I want to ask you a question as we come to the end of our time here is, is there a message that you,  or the county would like to share with businesses as we continue to wade through the uncertainty? Are there things that we could be doing or should be thinking about in terms of preparation or sustainability or anything along that line that’s clearly going to aid the overall plan to prepare, to reopen, repair, and restore the business economy of Chester County?

Marian Moskowitz: You know, it’s interesting because i’ve talked to a lot of people and everybody has very different wants and needs regarding what they should be doing. But there are a couple things that really stuck out with people had mentioned to me. And one was I was asked a question You know, what does an employer do when an employee doesn’t want to come back to work? They’re afraid. You know, things like this are things we’re going to have to grapple with in the real world. So I really would encourage businesses to start thinking about these things. It’s going to be hard for people, some people to go back to work. Scary. Hard. They want to make sure that they’re protected and they should be.

So I think, the thing that I would say, I’vee been a small business owner myself, and so I keep putting these businesses, I keep thinking, what would I do? And I think one of the things that you have to do, and it’s a big thing on my list always is communication. You have to communicate with your employees, your staff, your department heads, whomever. You need to have real dialogue with them so that everybody feels that they’re in this together.

It’s not just one person or another. This is a group. You want to keep your businesses sustained. You want to keep them, you want to keep your employees. You need to communicate. If nothing else, please reach out to them, see how they’re doing. You know, just don’t let them, they’re gone, they’re laid off. They’re,  don’t forget about them. Because they are the key to getting you back in business again. And sometimes we lose track of that because life is just takes on a path of its own. But I think that if I had one thing to say, I would say that. 

Joe Casabona: I think that’s a really fantastic message. And in next week’s episode, we’re talking to Lisa Van Ess about the exact issues that you’ve kind of talked about here. So,  after you get in your application for the grant and make sure to check out the next episode of Start Local, because everything that Marian talked about here is going to be expanded upon. So I think that it’s a really great preview for next week. So thanks for that. We didn’t even set that up.

Marian Moskowitz: But I want to thank you, Joe and Liam,  for the great work because we need to get the word out. And your podcast is the perfect opportunity to do that from a lot of perspectives. 

Liam Dempsey:  Well, thank you. And just before we say all goodbye formally, the Chester County website is where all the information is available. Are there other links or places that you want to share now that we could include in the show notes so people can find important relevant up to in today? Up to date information?

Marian Moskowitz:  Well, it’s all on the county website [chesco.org]. We have our numbers for the Covid cases. We have all the business you can actually listen to. All of the business seminars we’ve had online, they’re all there. Some are quite long, but, there are good questions from people and they’re good answers that might help you along. 

And, I would just encourage you that we have great articles and ideas for your business, you know, even for gyms and things like that. So I would just encourage you to take a look around the website has a wealth of information, really good stuff to share.

Liam Dempsey: Thank you so much for that. Marion, really appreciate your time today. I know you’re very, very busy. Joe and I are very grateful for your time.

Marian Moskowitz:  Thank you. Thanks for having me.  

Joe Casabona: Thanks so much, Marian. And thanks everybody for listening.

For all of those resources, be sure to head over to [startlocal.co]. 

And until next week, stay safe out there.

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