Op/Ed: Business owner and Commissioner: Weighing up both in planning Chester County’s renewal

By Marian Moskowitz, Chair, Chester County Board of Commissioners

Marian Moskowitz

Before I became a Chester County Commissioner, I was a small business owner.  My businesses ranged from retail to trucking, truck service to cosmetics, the import and export of mobile kiosks, to developing real estate.  I am very passionate about economic development, about the important contributions that small businesses make to our economy, and am privileged to serve as the Chair of the Chester County Economic Development Council.

All of this experience helps to guide me in my role as County Commissioner, and in the steps we are taking to re-open Chester County in light of the impact of COVID-19.

For me, getting people back to work is a priority. But keeping our community physically healthy is too.  Every day, I follow the debate about opening businesses now, about going against the Governor’s order.  Do I like that I can’t get together with my mom, our children and grandchildren?  Of course not, but I want to be assured that when we can, once again, be together, I am not going to infect them.  I also want to be certain that when my mom goes out to a store, I am confident that the store has done everything possible to protect her, as well as its employees and other customers in every way possible.

During this pandemic crisis, I have personally focused my thinking on our business people – what they are going through in this uncertain time.  As a small business owner, I put myself in that position, thinking about how I would adjust, what my plan would be, what I would do to make sure my employees and customers felt safe.  I would need a plan on how to handle employees that don’t want to come back to work for fear of contracting the coronavirus.  What are my obligations?  How will I follow new regulations regarding mitigation? Are the risks of opening up before the State says I should worth the potential consequences?  All very difficult decisions for a business owner.  I know that I would only get one chance at resuming operations, and if I didn’t do it right, or if it was too early for the health of my community and I had to shut down, I probably could never re-open.

In the decisions that I am making now as County Commissioner…in working through this problem…all my business ownership experience comes into play. My perspective as a small business owner has been a driving factor in setting up the Main Street Preservation Grant program with my fellow Commissioners to help sustain small businesses through this crisis.  So too in the formation of our COVID-19 Business Task Force, bringing together all types of businesses as well as our county health department and non-profits to determine when and how Chester County should resume activity.  We are the only county in the state investing in antibody testing because I know that it makes sense to have as much data and information at hand when making decisions that have to balance economic and physical health.

The business perspective is very important.  But there is another side to all of this that we must also take into account.   What does our Health Department believe, given our own Chester County data?  How much can we decide upon as only Chester County, and how much depends on the status of our neighboring counties? Thousands of people live in Chester County but work in other counties, and vice-versa.  We must also still take into account our hospitals and how many beds we have available, how many ventilators we have available…how many people are still testing positive for COVID-19, and most disheartening, how many deaths we have had and are still, sadly having.

I know how much our businesses want to open their doors again.  I know the immense strain involved in trying to pay rent, utilities, taxes, laying off employees and sitting with inventory that is not moving.  Resuming business is critical to the economy, but there are many complexities that surround this issue.  It is easy for people who have never owned a business or have never had to meet payroll to insist that businesses open up.  Some businesses could open up and some may be prepared to do so. But so many of our small main street businesses cannot and should not, at least not yet.

I do not have all the answers, and honestly neither does anyone else.  How could we? We have never gone through anything like this before.  Now is not the time for blame or discord. Now is the time to buckle down, focus and come up with a plan that is well informed and that weighs all relevant information as to how we will re-open. We are already doing this, so that when the Governor gives us the yellow light, we ALL will be ready to move into that tier with little risk of losing any businesses or spreading the coronavirus in the process.

It is my job now, as a County Commissioner, to make sure I am doing everything I can, along with my fellow Commissioners, to protect your health and welfare.  They do go together.  One does not have priority over the other.  We are working to address both so that when we open our doors for business it is the right thing to do.

I know our patience is waning.  I understand that we are all finding this time very difficult. And I certainly know that we want to open again as soon as possible.  We will get there, and we will get there because we have invested, we have considered both sides, and we have planned.  This is what Chester County does best, and we should not change that.  Especially not now.

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