The South Dade Chamber of Commerce hosted a conference call on the economic recovery strategy for south Dade on Monday April 20.
Panelists included the Mayors Steve Losner of Homestead, Tim Meerbott of Cutler Bay and Otis Wallace of Florida City, County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, Peter England of the Economic Development Council of South Dade (EDC) and Karen Freeman of Synergi Partners.
Chamber Executive Director Kerry Black served as moderator.
Black said the Chamber entered a partnership with Synergi after Hurricane Irma. The company is the largest tax credit and disaster relief aid provider in the country. It will analyze a business’ eligibility for credits on a contingency fee and assist with applications for a fee.
To the topic of how to help businesses recover and reopen, Mayor Wallace said, “We won’t know the situation without testing. Our story is not unique; many small businesses have shut down. It’s hoped the federal stimulus will help the local economy.”
Florida City’s Community Development Agency director Jon Ward said a further discussion of the recent HUD guidance on the $5 billion more for CDBG monies was needed to refocus community planning.
District 8 County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said, “This started as a health crisis, went to an economic crisis and now we’re in a humanitarian crisis.”
The Commissioner was hopeful federal legislation this week would bring new funding for paycheck protection loans guaranteed by the government.
“The funds were tapped out in three weeks,” she said. “It’s a fantastic program that allows businesses through a forgivable loan to cover all their operating expenses. They can cover their employees on it and not open unless an essential business and the employees still collect their checks – and could then be deployed to volunteer in the community!”
‘Miami-Dade County has been aggressive on the food front,” Commissioner Levine-Cava said. “Seniors received 1.5 million meals as of today. The County committed $900,000 to purchase produce from our local farmers that was not being distributed.”
“Twenty-six County libraries including Homestead are receiving unemployment compensation applications that are then express mailed to the government,” said the Commissioner. “At least you know your application was received and is being processed. I’m still trying to persuade the Governor to make the benefits retroactive to the date of job loss.”
“Also the County will not enforce evictions for either residential or
commercial properties during an emergency like this,” Levin-Cava said. “The County will not turn off anyone’s water and will waive late fees. The same with FPL electric – the bills are deferred.”
The Commissioner said the Beacon Council put together a list of business economic recovery resources and Axis Helps of Urban Impact Lab provides individual coaching for small businesses.
Homestead Mayor Steve Losner said, “Homestead now has a testing site manned by CHI on Mowry Street that’s open Monday through Wednesday from 10 am to 1pm.
The testing has a lag time of five days or more, so sometime this week we can start to get a true handle on what our infection rate is.”
“On the humanitarian need, I cannot overstate the impact of Farm Share here and statewide,” said Mayor Losner. “They’ve distributed over 11 million pounds of food, at least one-third in Miami Dade County. There’s another Rotary distribution with them this Saturday and we expect at least 1200 families to be served.”
The Mayor was cautious about reopening businesses, saying, “We must be very methodical because once that quarantine genie is out of the bottle, we’ll never get it back. We may have a permanent migration to working from home but then that would help with the transit problems.”
Mayor Wallace put in a word promoting the federal census during the call. “The Census helps us get the resources we need based on our population but it’s taken a back seat to the coronavirus situation. I encourage people to fill out the forms.”
Mayor Losner agreed. “The City has been proactive on social media about the Census and I’ve asked the manager to prepare a trilingual flyer to be distributed with donated food encouraging participation. This is nonpolitical. It’s so important that our numbers are better reflected.”
Executive Director Peter England of the EDC of South Dade asked for responses to the Council’s questionnaire to develop good local information for promoting job creation.
“A recent initiative we’ve worked on with Commissioner Cava is to roll up the infrastructure needs of south Dade as an economic stimulus,” he said. “There is a move in Congress to come up with a massive infrastructure bill. That would put a lot of people to work.”
“It would help us as a region to put together a package of those unmet needs and take it to the congressional delegation so we can be the first in line for those funds,” said England.
“One trend that’s emerging is an increased impetus to buy locally,” England said. “There are obvious gaps in the distribution chain identified with what we’re going through with this global pandemic.”
Cutler Bay Mayor Tim Meerbott said, ‘We’ve done a really good job flattening the curve with social distancing in this environment so I think that’s going to be the new normal.”
The Mayor thought masking and limiting gathering in numbers would help protect businesses. He thought it was time to consider how to operate business safely in this environment.
“We’ve changed practices a little, keeping the government up and running,” said Mayor Meerbott. “We need to be paying attention to the economy and what’s happening with business.” Mayor Meerbott said testing could be increased a great deal as there would be no vaccine for the virus for quite some time.
Director Black said the Chamber was constantly in contact with all elected officials on new business funding particularly funding for the area’s farmers and nursery owners.
Director England of the EDC said in conclusion, “A final note of caution; there’s a huge push to get back to work. We really need to be sure we’re safe, and our employees and our customers. We’ll never go back to business as usual. There will be a new reality, not necessarily a bad one. I’m an eternal optimist.”