Erie Chamber Blog
Monday April 6, 2020 

Post contributed by Peter Panepento, Turn Two Communications

One of the first rules of crisis communications is to communicate regularly.

But what happens when the crisis is all-consuming and the amount of messaging about it is simply too much for most of us to bear?

That’s the challenge most of us are facing with COVID-19.

My inbox is clogged with Coronavirus-related messages from seemingly every company, charity, consultant, and political group I’ve ever associated with (and some I’ve never heard of).  A handful of them are incredibly relevant to me – messages about canceled concerts, what to do if I have to take my dog to the vet, and how my local community foundation is responding to those in need in my city.

But too many of them are just noise.

Personally, I don’t need to see any more “A message from our CEO …” notes talking about their company’s commitment to my safety and their employees. Redundancy is a real problem – and too many messages are no longer relevant or necessary.

Now is the time to pivot into the next phase of your COVID-19 communications strategy. You shouldn’t stop communicating, but you do need to be thoughtful about what you’re saying.

Here are a few questions you should ask to help you avoid wasting time with unwanted or unnecessary messages:

Do they really need to know this?

Before you send an email, post to social media, or pitch a story to your favorite reporter, ask whether what you’re about to share is really of interest.

If you’re canceling an event, changing an important policy, extending a deadline, or announcing something that is directly relevant to your key audiences, the answer is yes.

If you’re merely reaffirming your commitment to safety or encouraging people to buy a non-necessary product, you’re not really adding much to the conversation. There are exceptions, for sure, depending on your organization’s focus and activities. 

But, for most, save your powder for what’s important. Your audiences will appreciate it – and they’ll be more likely to pay attention when you actually have something important to say.


What’s the best way to get the message out?

Not every message needs to be sent to your entire email list or posted to your Facebook page.

Some – like how to interact with your employees while they are working from home or what to do if they have a question – are more relevant if they are simply displayed in a prominent, easy-to-find page on your website. If people have a question, they’re more likely to go to your webpage than scroll through your Twitter feed or their email inbox. 

That said, take the time to provide answers to as many questions as possible on your website. And do it now.

If you haven’t already, create a COVID-19 page that includes key information and an extensive FAQ about anything that you think people will want to know. Make it easy for folks to find what they need by making sure you’re using the right tool for the job.


Who needs to hear this?

There might be a small portion of your audience that cares A LOT about what you have to say right now – or about a specific announcement. In those cases, find ways to target that small group, if you can, and avoid sharing it with those who don’t.

If I haven’t purchased your product in the past few years or flown your airline, I might not need that message about shipping delays or reduced flight schedules. But those who have been active recently are likely to be more interested.

One caution: Make sure your messaging is as consistent as possible in your communications with specific segments. You risk losing credibility if someone in your audience sees messages that are starkly different.


Have I struck the right tone?

If you do have something important to share, be careful to make sure your message carries the right tone. This is always important – but it’s especially so right now.

To achieve this, keep up with the latest news and the range of opinions about the crisis. People, obviously, are very tuned into this crisis, and your messages need to reflect the evolving moments that we are in.  


Are my messages connecting?

Finally, pay attention to what your data is telling you.

If people are opening certain emails at a high rate – and ignoring or unsubscribing from others – see if you can find a pattern. It’s quite likely that you should focus on topics that resonate and stop wasting time and energy on others that might be unnecessary or out of touch. The same is true for traffic to certain pages on your website or engagement on your social posts.

Listen to what your audience is telling you. It might help you avoid driving them away during an important time.

Peter Panepento is the Philanthropic Practice Leader for Turn Two Communications.

Thursday March 26, 2020 

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: 

  • Up to $500 
  • Must be used to assist with basic living expenses such as housing, utilities, and groceries 
  • No matching funds required 

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: 

  • Loans available from $5,000 - $50,000 
  • 60-month installment loan
  • 3% interest after grace period 
  • Flexible repayment terms are available including 3 months no interest/no payment, followed by 12 months of interest only 
  • Loan funds can be used for working capital, real estate acquisition and renovation, and bridge funding gaps 

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: 

  • Loans available from $5,000 - $50,000 
  • 60-month installment loan 
  • 3% interest after grace period 
  • Flexible repayment terms are available including 3 months no interest/no payment, followed by 12 months of interest only 
  • Loan funds can be used for working capital, real estate acquisition and renovation, and bridge funding gaps 

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:

  • Loans available up to $50,000
  • Zero percent interest - no payments for 90 days
  • Loans can be used for working capital, payroll, and bridge funding gaps

 

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: 

  • Loans available up to $100,000 
  • Loan terms are three years 
  • Zero percent interest, no payments or interest in the first year 
  • No application fees 
  • Loans available for working capital 
  • Accounts receivable lines of credit available  

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:

  • Maximum loan size is equivalent to 250% of the employer's average monthly payroll costs or $10 million, whichever is less
  • 6 - 12 months deferred repayment
  • Fee waivers
  • Streamlined application requirements
  • Borrowers are eligible for loan forgiveness equal to the sum spent on covered expenses during an 8-week period after the loan is originated
  • Loans are extended to businesses or nonprofits with 500 or fewer employees that have been adversely affected by COVID-19

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: 

  • Loans available up to $2 million 
  • Interest rate for small businesses is 3.75% 
  • Interest rate for non-profits is 2.75% 
  • Long repayment terms in order to keep payments affordable, up to 30 years 
  • Loan funds may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that cannot be covered due to the COVID-19 pandemic 

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 

Monday March 23, 2020 

Are you a manufacturer in Northwestern Pennsylvania (or other entity) with a supply of N95 masks and other crucial medical supplies? 

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. 

  • coronavirus
Friday March 20, 2020 
by: Jake Rouch
VP, Economic Development

As things continue to develop in response to COVID-19, questions around unemployment compensation continue to arise. Below is a Q&A with Bev Rapp from Rapid Response to help explain the latest in terms we all can understand.

Q: Does unemployment compensation come from Pennsylvania or the U.S. Government?
All Unemployment Compensation (UC) benefits are paid by the state in which you reside - there is not an additional federal program you apply to for aid.  The Federal Government's role in UC is as a funder to states; they pass along that money to states who pay it out to individuals.  Funding for UC comes from you (out of your paycheck), employers, the state and the feds.
 

Q: Who can apply for unemployment compensation?
Any person that is laid off should file an online application to begin receiving benefits. 
 

Q: What do I need to file for unemployment compensation?
There is a checklist on that site of all the information you should have available to file.  Assemble all of that information and then begin to complete the online form.  In addition to SSN and Employer ID number (which would be on your pay stub), you should have the contact information for who handles employment/payroll.  In addition, you should have your bank routing number and account information so they can do direct deposit.  


Q: How will I receive compensation?
After you apply, you will receive a PIN in the mail that enables you to activate your account for payment.  You will need to file every two weeks to get paid - therefore, you will need to keep your PIN so you can keep getting paid.  Normally, you have to wait one week before you can apply - this has been suspended and you can apply IMMEDIATELY.  Normally, you have to prove that you are searching for a job - this, too, has been suspended.  
 

Q: How often will I receive benefits?
UC benefits are weekly but paid bi-monthly (2x/month).  Thus, you have to file every two weeks.
 

Q: How much will I receive?
Each individual's UC benefit is calculated using the highest quarter of income out of the last five quarters.  A benefits calculator is available online. Maximum benefit in PA is $572/week and UC benefits are subject to federal taxes at this time.

 
Q: Is there any other option for employers to avoid layoffs? 
Yes; it is called the Shared Work Program. The Shared Work Program allows employers to reduce the hours of an employee. If an employer applies for and is approved under the Shared Work Program, then they pay the employee at the reduced hours at full hourly or salary rate and the employee can apply for UC benefits.  This is estimated to get the worker who has reduced hours get closer to 75%-80% of full-time pay with no detriment to the UC rate charged to employers.


Q: What happens if I have to fire someone, or lay off the team? 
The UC rate employers are charged for total payroll goes up because you've added someone eligible for benefits.  Thus, UC rates can be a large cost. The Shared Work Program allows employers to not rate the UC rate. An employer may opt to go that route, to minimize an increased cost. 
Friday March 20, 2020 

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:

Federal

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.

State

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.

Resources

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

4.       PA Department of Health


Erie County

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. 

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