Welcome to the following businesses who joined the Erie Regional Chamber last month:
Thank you for your investment, we look forward to working with you!
We are leading Erie's economic evolution by providing awareness, advocacy, and access to people, information, and education. Our membership represents nearly 800 companies in the Erie region. If you or a business you know could benefit from becoming a member of the Erie Regional Chamber, refer them to Steve Walters, Member Engagement Manager, for details and information.
Each year, the Erie Regional Chamber celebrates the excellence of its members in the business community. The long-standing Louis J. Tullio Community Service Award will share the stage on March 10th this year with two new awards: the Small Business of the Year Award and the Forward Award.
The Small Business of the Year award will recognize a new or existing small business champion committed to collaboration and mentorship within the small business community. The recipient contributes to the economic health of the community through exceptional business practices and customer service, demonstrates a high level of community involvement through participation in civic, community, and Erie Regional Chamber projects, and demonstrates a consistent record of strong employee relations and dedication to developing their company culture.
The Forward Award will honor the achievements of local businesses making a practice of building world-class company cultures and best practices to the Erie market. The recipient goes above and beyond to create positive workplace environments that have a unique culture and promote workplace flexibility, strong recruiting practices, employee retention, and development. Forward Award recipients demonstrate an attitude of excellence and outstanding achievement through creative solutions and excel in supporting and reinforcing the values of their company. Forward Award honorees set a high standard of integrity by leading through example, maintaining a high personal standard and promoting a team environment. This Forward Award will be given to those who go above and beyond showing exceptional initiative, perseverance, accountability, and commitment in exceeding the expectations of their duties as well as those who make significant, positive impacts on their industry and the community by supporting the sharing of knowledge and building collaborative relationships.
Join us on March 10th as we announce the winners of these two awards as well as honor our Louis J. Tullio award recipient for 2020 – Fred Rush, Jr. Over the course of the evening, we will also acknowledge Young Erie Professional’s Young Professional of the Year awardee as well as recognize the 2019 and 2020 ATHENA Powerlink panelists.
Reserve your spot today and be part of a wonderful event to honor excellence in our community. Register Here.
Are you a business owner without a succession plan (and no children in the family business)? Or are you a start-up founder interested in an alternative business structure? ESOPs and Worker Co-Ops may be the way to go.
ESOP stands for employee stock ownership or employee share ownership is when a company's employees own shares in that company. Below are some frequently asked questions to better understand the ins and outs of this organizational structure.
Why don’t more people do this?
Based on a joint research white paper published by the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) and the Employee S-Corp Association (ESCA) the overwhelming reason is “lack of awareness” by selling shareholders. This is why the PaCEO was formed, to raise awareness. In 2017 research showed that less than 3% of sellers considered (or even heard of) ESOPs when selling their business.
When company owners think about selling, they typically reach out to their trusted advisors (Attorneys, Financial Advisors, Banks, CPAs). Unfortunately, most advisors in this industry are poorly educated or misunderstand Employee Ownership. If they don’t know about it, they can’t invite their clients to investigate.
In an ESOP transaction, the US Department of Labor requires a 3rd party valuation to determine Fair Market Value (FMV), which then becomes the sale price. It is possible for a seller to get a sale price higher than FMV if, for example, the buyer wishes to eliminate employee departments or move the company offshore. But in these circumstances, the business does not realize the gains from being tax-free.
Can I retain control of the business after I sell?
Absolutely. In an ESOP transaction, the organizational structure remains. There is a Board of Directors, who hires a CEO, who hires the management team. In many cases, the selling shareholder stays on as CEO for as long as they wish.
How are shares of an ESOP company divided?
The selling shareholder has a great deal of leverage in determining how the ESOP works through the creation of the Plan Document. The Plan Document determines how shares are allocated (Pro-rata on salary? Even-Stephen? Seniority? Or some combination of factors?). The owners also decide how and when shares are paid out. The DoL requires, at a minimum, at retirement-aged, and no more than 5 years after an employee departs a company.
Does every employee participate?
Yes, every full-time employee (30 hours/week) must be given the option to participate. But the Plan Document may also specify a vesting period.
How much does this cost?
All transactions (ESOPs or other sales) are expensive. All transactions require lawyers, financial managers, and valuation groups. In an ESOP, you also need a Trustee to represent the employees. And it all depends on the size of the business. Typically, costs for an ESOP transaction can be as much as 10% more costly than a non-ESOP transaction. But it depends on the complexity and size of the company.
Does the business run “democratically”?
Many Co-Ops include a democratic organizational structure, but it is not a requirement. This means that certain decisions are made by all employees (one person one vote). But typically there is a business organization that does not require everyone to vote on everything (buying pencils, e.g.).
But a business may also have a traditional management structure, with a company leader (president) and other employees filling other roles. Not everyone wants the responsibility of decision-making. However, in a true Worker Co-Op, the employees own the company equally.
What if new employees come onboard?
There are a variety of ways this can occur. New employees may need to clear a vesting period prior to being awarded ownership. Typically they also need to “pay” for their ownership through payroll deductions or some other method. Unlike ESOPs, there can also be two classes of employees – owners and non-owners. But this brings its own set of challenges.
How is a Co-Op funded?
Typically there is a multi-tiered funding model that purchases the business from the owner, on behalf of the employees. The funding model could include any combination of:
Are there tax advantages for Co-Ops?
Unfortunately, at this time there is not. But there are financial supports available from the SBA (Small Business Administration), and there are numerous bills (State and Federal) seeking to create financial support and tax relief for Co-Ops, as they create jobs and support local communities.
How big can a Co-Op be?
Co-Ops can be large or small. Some have 3 employees, some have hundreds.
What are Next-Steps after learning about employee ownership?
The Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership (www.OwnershipPennsylvania.org) can walk any interested party through the process, and provide a broad list of experienced and vetted professionals who can assist in the next steps. We always recommend that you meet with a company that is currently employee-owned, who has gone through the process and can share their experience.
Once that is complete, the interested party chooses a company to conduct a brief professional assessment on whether the company is a good fit for employee ownership. Generally, there is no cost for this. If it makes sense, then the next step would be a professional Feasibility Study that takes a deep look at the financials and projects the picture of costs and profits over a 5-year period.
As a result of the aging of Baby Boomers, it’s estimated that over 4 million businesses, large and small, will sell or go out of business over the next 10 years. Many of those are right here in Erie. What will that do to our neighborhoods? Our business districts? Our families and our future?
The unfortunate reality is that 70% of business owners over 55 do not have a succession plan. What will happen to those businesses? Will they disappear? Fortunately, we may have a unique solution…..it’s called employee ownership, but very few people know about it.
What if a business owner could sell some or all of their business to their employees, receive full fair market value and the employees would pay….nothing? And what if the business could then become tax-free? Well, thanks to an Act of Congress, this is a reality! It’s called an ESOP – An Employee Stock Ownership Plan. And it works like this…
What is an ESOP?
Now, typically, ESOPs make sense for companies with 20 or more employees. But what if a company has only 5 or 6 employees and the owner(s) wish to transition from the business? Well, there’s a program for that as well. It’s called a Worker Cooperative Conversion. In a co-op conversion, the employees buy the business from the owner, using a variety of available funding sources. The employees pay off the debt using the company profits over a period of time. And the employees now equally own the business!
It’s no surprise that employee-owned businesses are much more productive than non-employee owned businesses, and wages are as much as 30% higher. Employee-owned companies:
The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership recently met with the nonprofit Pennsylvania Center for Employee Ownership to learn more about this remarkable program. As a follow-up, the ERCGP has partnered with the PaCEO to create a Webinar to teach interested businesses and citizens about this. The webinar will air for the first time on Monday, March 16th. Registration is available online: ESOP: Employee Ownership.
For more information visit: www.OwnershipPennsylvania.org.
by: John Bloomstine
President and CEO
Insurance Management Company
You may be asking the question…is insurance coverage available under common business insurance policies for losses due to the coronavirus? We have been asked this question in many different ways but there are four common themes and we thought it would be helpful if we shared them with you. You will see that the answers are “maybe”, but highly doubtful. Bear in mind that insurance policies differ widely, as do state laws and the risks applicable to individual businesses.
Question: Would we have insurance coverage for business interruption if either our employees fail to come to work, or our facilities become contaminated with the coronavirus and, as a result, we are forced to close, or one of our key suppliers or customers is so forced to close, resulting in an impact to our business?
The mere presence of the coronavirus virus is not likely to cause your property policy to respond to either property damage or business interruption losses. Generally, most property policies require first that there be physical damage to tangible property to “trigger” the policy. It is conceivable that the presence of the coronavirus could be deemed to be “physical damage”, but such a determination has not been made by the courts and will likely take years of litigation.
Even if physical damage can be established, various exclusions might be triggered such as the pollution or mold exclusions. Most property policies require that the damage results from a peril not otherwise excluded such as fire, wind, or earthquake. Viruses, pandemics and contagious/infectious diseases are generally not covered due to the pollution or mold exclusions.
Many of you purchase contingent business interruption coverage as part of your insurance program. Contingent coverage responds if your business sustains a loss of income caused by either a supplier being unable to provide you with a product or a customer not being able to purchase your product. However, much like a business interruption claim, contingent business interruption coverage generally requires direct physical loss to tangible property as well, caused by a covered peril, to either your supplier’s or customer’s property.
Without physical damage from a covered peril, it will be a challenge to have either your business interruption or contingent business interruption insurance respond to coronavirus related losses.
Question: Would we have insurance coverage for business interruption if a government authority requires us to close, or curtail operations, or so requires one of our key suppliers or customers to close/curtail, resulting in an impact on our business?
Most business interruption insurance provides some level of coverage for business interruption losses caused by a civil authority (e.g. a governmental agency shutting you down). However, this coverage also requires direct physical damage to tangible property. For example, if your neighbor’s facility catches fire, and the fire department requires you to shut down because the fire is causing toxic fumes, this interruption could be covered.
Merely because the government shuts your business down does not, in itself, cause the business interruption insurance to respond.
Question: Would we have insurance coverage for potential liability if a visitor claims to have been infected with the coronavirus at one of our facilities?
A commercial General Liability policy provides coverage when the insured is legally liable, and the loss was not intended. While every business has the obligation to maintain safe premises, including reasonable hygiene, to protect against the injury to visitors, proving legal liability related to a visitor's contraction of the virus would require a claimant to prove that your company failed to take reasonable measures to protect the public.
However, it is important to note that two coverage exclusions would likely come into play:
Maintaining safe and healthy premises is paramount to managing this risk.
Question: If any of our workers can prove that they contracted the coronavirus at work, is their disease covered by workers' compensation?
Generally, there are two tests:
It should be noted that workplaces that have not historically had any increased risk of exposure to infectious diseases could be deemed to be at an increased risk going forward as the result of government mandates that workers continue to show up despite the coronavirus risk. Grocery stores could be such an example. Accordingly, a change in the risk profile of certain workplaces could result in workers' compensation claims being accepted for infected workers in those workplaces.
This Q&A merely serves as an outline to some of the key challenges that exist for businesses regarding the coronavirus. Contact your insurance business agent to review your policy and understand the details as it relates to the potential impact.
Insurance Management Company is a third-generation family (The Bloomstines) owned and operated insurance agency in Erie, PA that services the property, liability, cyber risk and workers’ compensation needs of currently 125 commercial, industrial and institutional clients that have operations in 26 states and 31 countries. They can be reached at www.imcerie.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In times of crisis, all of us find comfort in a plan that makes sense and helps guide us forward in a logical manner that addresses the most important issues we face. The completion of tasks results in a certain amount of euphoria, and euphoria brings new rivers of energy flooding in upon you. And right now, we all need energy.
1. Do Not Panic – There is a pathway forward but it will not be seen if you are flipping out. You are the leader of your business – even if it is just you – so you need to be solutions-oriented and not go down the rabbit hole of “what ifs”…that will not be productive.
2. Get Organized – Assemble all of your documents, accounts, and paperwork relative to major categories that affect your cash flow. For example:
Employees, Healthcare, Rent/Mortgage, Business Loans, Utilities, Insurance, Raw Materials/Supplies, Transportation, Equipment.
3. Prioritize Issues – This should likely be the size of cost for you on a monthly basis.
4. Assemble Your Questions for Each Priority – Each call you have to address the items on your list to address have questions you need to be answered. Write them down so that you can cover all of them with one call.
5. Be Patient and Communicate Clearly – Everyone is presently under stress, however, everyone also wants to help. So be patient. To help you and whomever you are calling, being organized with your information and having specific questions will help bring order and focus. To have a productive interaction, communicate slowly and clearly.
6. Confirm Next Steps – Make sure you are writing down the steps you need to take, forms you need to be filled out, a process that will be followed. Understanding the process and following it will help minimize wasted time and minimize mistakes.
7. Expect Delays/Missteps – There are so many moving parts that you have to be prepared for delays and administrative missteps. Do not let those throw you off of getting accomplished what you need to be done. Remain patient, be prepared, communicate clearly. There is an old say, “Please and Thank You will get you around the world.” Now more than ever, practice that.
8. Tough Decisions First – If you have employees, you must make decisions regarding their future as soon as possible. Why? First, they need to know. Second, it is a cost center that you must get under control. Third, paperwork related to laying them off or letting them go takes time and can be confusing, so you must confront that reality in a clear and aggressive way. You owe it to them to provide clarity and to your business to survive. It will be one of the worst decisions you will ever make – because it affects someone else’s livelihood – but it cannot be ignored.
9. Communicate – Employees, Customers, and suppliers need to hear from you. Do not ignore them. Even if there is no business to be transacted. Those are critical relationships to sustain. When things return to normal, your bond will be stronger and it will position you for long-term success.
10. Reflect and Plan – Unexpected downtime is a great opportunity for you to evaluate all you do and develop a plan for changes you want to make going forward. This is an opportunity created by unique, uncontrollable circumstances. Take advantage of it.
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Not sure how COVID-19 will impact your business? Sign up for our FREE, task-oriented email series where we will be sharing videos, webinars, and checklists to prepare your business for the weeks and months to come.
Government Assistance for Businesses
The Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership is working closely with local, state, and federal representatives to advocate for capital and other resources to help our business community make it through this difficult time. We are closely monitoring federal and state legislation and will bring you updates as resources become available. We are also working with our local partners including Erie County, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, and the City of Erie, to help shape their programs to meet the needs of the businesses.
To help us shape these tools, please take a moment to complete this survey to help us ensure we are getting the right tools for your business.
Our team is working to inventory any capital resources from government agencies as they become available. Please contact our office in advance of beginning any applications for government loans, so we can direct you to the best tool for your business.
Special thanks to our partners and members who have been a great resource to our community as we navigate this difficult time. Here’s the latest updates from some of our member experts:
The Second Coronavirus Federal Relief Package was signed into law today by President Trump. The Senate approved the bill earlier this afternoon.
1. The package includes terms for required paid sick leave, expanding nutrition assistance, and providing greater access to COVID testing.
2. Erie Chamber leadership and the Government Affairs Committee will be speaking directly with Senator Toomey in a call tomorrow to hear more about the specifics of the package
The House is now working on a third package to address the liquidity issue for businesses, considering provisions such as direct payments to businesses and loan guarantees.
U.S. Chamber Applauds Passage of "Families First Coronavirus Response Act"
1. Suspending remittance of the payroll tax
2. Expanding small businesses lending
3. Providing emergency loans to America’s largest employers.
Senator Killion has issued a memorandum sharing his intent to introduce legislation which will provide economic injury resources for small business throughout Pennsylvania. The legislation will propose “Currently, all table game revenue is directed to the General Fund. My legislation will direct those funds to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) for the creation of a zero-interest small business economic injury loan program.”
The Wolf Administration and DCED have been working with SBA for relief related to COVID 19 impacts on our business community. Businesses are asked to complete this survey in order to help secure additional resources for relief to our business community.
1. DCED FAQ Site Now Available: This page, in addition to the resources page will continue to be updated with information regarding COVID-19 and its impact on businesses, organizations and communities throughout the Commonwealth as that information becomes available.
2. PA Chamber offers free Employer Response to Coronavirus Webinar on Thursday, March 19
3. Unemployment Compensation Information may be found here
County Executive Declares Disaster Emergency and reiterates shutdown of non-essential businesses in Erie County.
Erie County Executive and County Council work with ECGRA to appropriate $300k in relief funds for the following groups:
1. $100,000 additional funding to the Health Department
2. $200,000 for non-profits and businesses
More details of ECGRA’s funding and program guidelines are anticipated to be released after ECGRA’s meeting on the morning of March 19.
City of Erie
Mayor Schember announces that City Hall will be closed to the public beginning Thursday, March 19.
Erie Mayor affirms County and State declarations and makes accommodations for City staff.
The City Department of Economic and Community Development is extending an interest free 60-day payment holiday on all City of Erie business loans effective March 31st. March payments will continue to be processed as normal. All payments due in April will be suspended until June and will resume on your normal due date. Loan terms will be extended by two months and no interest will accrue during this holiday. Please contact Chris Groner directly (814-870-1272) with any questions regarding this payment suspension.
As the coronavirus spreads, Chambers throughout the Commonwealth are asking manufacturers and other companies for two critical needs: their back stock of N95 masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) and to turn their existing supply chain to generate addition PPE output to meet the needs of Pennsylvania's healthcare system.
In a statement earlier today, the PA Chamber made the following request:
As the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the Commonwealth and the nation, there has been much attention paid to the fact that the health care community is critically low on the personal protective equipment (PPE) that will help guard them against contracting the virus as they continue to perform the important work of diagnosing and treating patients. That's why the PA Chamber is making two urgent requests of businesses across Pennsylvania.
The statement continues, imploring businesses to donate their back stock of N95 masks to local hospitals. Protective eye gear, medical gloves, and medical gowns are also needed by frontline healthcare workers. In some parts of the state, healthcare providers must wear the same PPE for hours, which increases their risk of infection. Additionally, businesses are asked to examine their existing supply chain and determine if additional PPE supplies are available and/or if the business has capacity to produce critical medical supplies.
Erie businesses have been quick to respond. Several local distilleries retooled equipment from liquor to hand sanitizer in an effort to keep local healthcare facilities well-stocked, according to a recent Erie Times-News article.
We hope other businesses follow suit and respond to the PA Chamber's request -- and ours -- to funnel critical supplies to where they're needed most. If your company is able to assist in this manner, please contact us as soon as possible so that we can connect you to the appropriate medical facility.
The Erie Regional Chamber continues to mobilize resources for our local business community. Below is a list of COVID-19 Emergency Funds designed to help small businesses address current capital challenges as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. We will continue to add resources as they come online.
Please also refer to our COVID-19 Business Resource page for additional resources.
For additional guidance, download our funding assistance checklist. This list will help you organize and prepare to complete an emergency fund loan application.
Erie Arts and Culture Emergency Financial Assistance Fund
The Erie Arts and Culture Emergency Financial Assistance Fund is designed to assist creative and cultural professionals – which includes artists of all disciplines – that have experienced a revenue disruption due to COVID-19. The grant details are as follows:
The application is available online at erieartsandculture.org.
Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA) Civic Institution Deferred Income Loan Program – Administered by Bridgeway Capital
The ECGRA Civic Institution Deferred Income Loan Program exists to assist nonprofits and civic institutions in Erie County that can demonstrate negative financial impact as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The loan details are as follows:
The application is available online at bridgewaycapital.org.
Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA) Immediate Human Relief Fund
The ECGRA Immediate Human Relief Fund is designed to support 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations that serve vulnerable populations including food pantries, homeless shelters, youth/child centers, and elderly care centers. Grants are available with no match funding required
The application is available online at www.ecgra.org.
Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority (ECGRA) Small Business Loan Fund - Administered by Bridgeway Capital
The ECGRA Small Business Loan Fund is geared toward small businesses with 25 or fewer employees that can demonstrate negative financial impact due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The loan details are as follows:
The application is available online at www.bridgewaycapital.org.
Erie County Redvelopment Authority Small Business Emergency Loan Fund - Funds no longer available
The Erie County Redevelopment Authority's Small Business Emergency Loan Fund offers loans for small businesses in Erie County from any industry that has been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The loan details are as follows:
PA COVID-19 Working Capital Access (CWCA) Program - Funds no longer available
The PA COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program is for businesses in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with 100 or fewer full-time employees with immediate working capital needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program details are as follows:
For additional information, read this loan fact sheet. The local contact and administrator for this program is the Erie County Redevelopment Authority.
Paycheck Protection Program - Administered by Preferred SBA Lenders
The Paycheck Protection Loan Program offers federally insured, partially forgivable loans that can be used to cover short-term operating expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The loan details are as follows:
For additional information, please visit the Paycheck Protection Program website.
SBA Disaster Relief Loan Program
The SBA Disaster Relief Loan Program is available to small businesses and non-profit organizations in need of economic support to help overcome temporary loss of revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. The loan details are as follows:
The application is available online at www.sba.gov.
If you haven’t yet, please complete this brief survey so we can best understand your needs and connect you to the appropriate capital resource: COVID-19 Emergency Capital Tool Survey