(Sept. 4, 2020) Worcester County businesses will receive more economic assistance as the Worcester County Commissioners passed the second round of Covid-19 Back to Business Assistance Grant funding during their meeting on Tuesday.
The county was granted $2.18 million for local businesses from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The commissioners passed the first round of funding for Worcester businesses in July.
For the first round of funding, $1.25 million will be distributed to more than 150 businesses, according to Tom Perlozzo, director of recreation and parks, economic development and tourism. Businesses will receive either $5,000, $7,000 or $10,000 depending on business type and number of employees.
As for the second round, Perlozzo recommended three categories – about $500,000 for businesses, $250,000 for workforce development and $250,000 for advertising. He also suggested that sole proprietors with zero employees be included in the first round to allow for agriculture producers.
Perlozzo said the workforce investment could develop a Skilled Trades, Agriculture and Tourism program.
“The county is, as you know, not immune to the pandemic and replacing and finding talented workforce,” Perlozzo said.
J-1 students, a major workforce for the county, could not travel to the United States this year because of a temporary visa ban. Other workforce investment suggestions were creating a county talent connect portal; developing specific programs at Worcester Technical High School, Wor-Wic Community College, Salisbury University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore; seeking out diverse candidates; and investing in retention programs.
For the advertising, Perlozzo said the department would focus on direct marketing such as email, postal, programmatic, mobile and print.
County Commissioner Chip Bertino said he was uncomfortable with the advertising amount.
“I’m concerned about taking $250,000 for advertising, unrelated to helping the businesses who may be in a financial crunch,” Bertino said.
When County Commissioner Joshua Nordstrom voiced a concern about the applications coming from the south end of the county, Perlozzo listed the applications from various zip codes — 29 total applications came from Snow Hill and Pocomoke zip codes. County Commissioner Jim Bunting pointed out that over half the applications came from Berlin and Ocean City.
“I’d like to say that I can’t make everyone apply, but I can assure you that we have reached out to every city manager, every PR person, downtown coordinators, chambers of commerce and promoted the opportunity,” Perlozzo said.
Bunting added that he was also concerned about the advertising money.
Perlozzo said that money would be equally distributed to all jurisdictions in Worcester, including Ocean Pines, to drive tourism and small business development.
“Our idea was that Worcester County tourism would administer the funds, work with each individual jurisdiction and develop what they need as far as advertising,” Perlozzo said.
He also said that the idea was for the municipalities to have the option to match the funds.
Bertino asked that since Ocean City and Berlin already have robust advertising, if the grant money could be weighted toward the southern end of the county.
Perlozzo said that was the commissioner’s call.
Harold Higgins, chief administrative officer, added that the agriculture community was reluctant to participate in the grant application.
Bertino suggested providing more education to southern Worcester.
“Maybe the reason is there’s a misunderstanding or not a full appreciation of how this could really help them,” Bertino said.
County Commissioner Ted Elder said it seemed as if the agriculture community didn’t see how the grants and advertising would help them.
“Most of the farmers and people in agriculture and extremely independent and don’t like to look to government for help,” Elder said.
The commissioners voted unanimously to continue with Perlozzo’s recommendations, with the understanding that the advertising money would be weighted toward the southern end of the county, below Newark.