The leaders of two business-based organizations voiced confidence Tuesday that Lancaster County’s seriously ailing economy someday will regain its old health – though not exactly its old look.
Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, and Tom Baldrige, president of the Lancaster Chamber, were optimistic that the county’s business community will find ways to succeed while coping with the “new normal” imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I absolutely see Lancaster coming back,” said Riggs. “Is it going to look exactly the same? It probably won’t. There are going to be changes. We’re going to have some businesses that don’t make it and we’re going to have new businesses that come up.
“One of the things that’s extraordinary about Lancaster is we have this wonderful, resilient entrepreneurial culture … (We) fully, fully believe that we as a community will be back strong. How quick? That’s what we’re going to find out,” she added.
Riggs and Baldrige made their comments the same day that the state announced that the county’s unemployment rate was a staggering 15.3% in April, the worst since the Great Depression. The spike was triggered by Gov. Tom Wolf’s business shutdown and stay-at-home orders, to stifle the spread of COVID-19.
“Without question, Lancaster will recover,” said Baldrige. “But it will be different. And there will be a lot of heartache and pain along with it, and there already has been. There will be companies that won’t be with us any longer, and that will be difficult to comprehend.”
Yet Baldrige said resilient, innovative businesses will find a way, pointing to the pivots done by two local businesses, Spring House Brewing and Mount Hope Estate & Winery, to draw customers during the pandemic by showing drive-in movies, as examples.
He also cited the business community’s response to the need of the EDC and chamber for help to create and carry out their previously announced Lancaster County Economic Recovery Plan. Some 140 people are volunteering.
“The reason I’m so positive is, in part, because how I’ve seen us rally around this crisis. That energy will not dissipate. It will simply carry us forward to make sure we recover in the months and years to come,” said Baldrige.
Riggs and Baldrige spoke during a virtual discussion of the plan’s $25 million Small Business Recovery & Sustainability Fund and the plan’s program to distribute $6 million worth of personal protective equipment to small businesses at no charge. The conversation was hosted by Suzanne Cassidy, LNP | LancasterOnline’s opinion editor.
The two initiatives are being supported by the Lancaster County Commissioners, who agreed last week to fund them with some of the $95 million coming to the county from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Relief (CARES) Act.