Sight and Sound leadership

FILE: Josh Enck, left, and Matt Neff sit in the theatre at Sight & Sound. Enck became president and Neff became CEO in 2015.

Personalized Dentistry of Lancaster opened its doors in May 2019, as a startup dental practice.

Not even a year later, it was forced to shut its doors because dental health was not deemed “essential” by Gov. Tom Wolf’s first shutdown order in March.

The dental practice in Manheim Township was able to reopen for emergency procedures in the end of March and was allowed to reopen for nonemergency appointments with strict personal protective equipment regulations in early May, according to the state Department of Health.

But even worse than the closure of the dental business was the inability to apply for many of the available business grant or loan opportunities, owner Sherri Ney testified Tuesday during a Senate Majority Policy Committee workshop. Her business could not show 2018 or 2019 revenues, she said.

“Oftentimes they won’t even let you fill out the application if you don’t have that information,” Ney said to a panel of Republican senators.

Ney and several other Lancaster business leaders pointed to problems they’re experiencing as they try to survive the pandemic and made suggestions for how best to help businesses in south-central Pennsylvania recover from the economic impact of COVID-19.

The workshop was part of a series of informational meetings held by Senate Republicans to gather information to help different regions of the state recover. The workshop was hosted at the request of Sen. Scott Martin, R-Martic Township, said policy committee chair Sen. Dave Argall, R-Berks County.

Aid on the way

Lisa Riggs, president of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, spoke about the $25 million available to small businesses in the county from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. For the 1,116 businesses that applied for Recovery Lancaster’s first round of funding, the average business was established in 1998. And each business had an average of 75% revenue loss during 2020 compared with the same months in 2019.

Riggs pointed to good news: Armstrong Flooring announced its new corporate headquarters in Greenfield last week. She stressed that some businesses are ready to spend money, and the state needs a “strategy today to be driving capital investment to help sustain our business community long term.”

Many business owners criticized Wolf for how he handled the economy during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, including the secretive business waiver process and “haphazard decision-making and changing metrics,” as Sam Beiler, founder and owner of Spooky Nook Sports, said.

Tom Baldrige, president of Lancaster Chamber, said the state needs to address liability insurance accessibility for pandemic relief and make sure its guidance is clear.

“One thing we learned from this pandemic is that businesses are innovative and are, in fact, inspiring,” Baldrige added. “But they’re also impatient, and rightfully so.”

Baldrige suggested the state recreate a task force organized by Wolf in 2017 to address a workforce “crisis,” because too few employees were available.

Martin mentioned a bill Wolf vetoed in April that would have created a Cost and Recovery task force that Baldrige suggested, which would have given local control to counties for recovery initiatives, among other things.

Stephen Sikking, who owns Eden Resort and Suites and other area hotels, said he has had a problem getting some employees to return to work because they are making more money on unemployment.

Rock Lititz would like to partner with the state to reopen venues and implement tax credits for live events, as they’ll be the “last sector to return to normal,” general manager Andrea Shirk said.

Sight & Sound Theaters was supposed to start a new show it had been working on for three years when the shutdown began. Since then, the Lancaster theater has had to cancel 300 performances impacting 500,000 guests, resulting in $5 million in refunds for canceled shows, said Sight & Sound CEO Matt Neff. Its Missouri theater was allowed to reopen in early June.

Neff said more than anything, Sight & Sound Theatres would like “the liberty to” make creative solutions to keep patrons and staff safe, rather than mandatory restrictions passed down from the Department of Health.

“These are problems we can solve,” Neff said. “Let us solve them.”