The head of the North Country Chamber of Commerce has been holding a series of virtual conversations with New York’s elected officials. This week U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand discussed a number of issues of interest to the business community.
The webinar conversation between North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas and Senator Gillibrand was quick, as the Democrat anticipated being called to a floor vote.
Every year the local chamber conducts a business survey and Douglas reported the top concern this year is acceleration of the COVID vaccination process. “That’s what’s going to facilitate reopening, business starting, hopefully the border re-opening, all the other concerns. Could you share with us some of the things that are happening including with the recent bill to help accelerate that process?”
Gillibrand: “The bill had $7.5 billion in CDC funding for vaccine distribution including vaccine clinics proposed by the Biden Administration. And then we got $7.66 billion for a health force which would basically provide for training of tens of thousands of healthcare workers to help the vaccination process to be trained by the CDC and then deployed to the states.”
Douglas noted that the Senate had confirmed Isabel Guzman as the new SBA administrator and asked Gillibrand if that would lead to quicker relief for businesses such as restaurants, bars and performance spaces. She thinks it will help a lot. “We do know that the SBA’s been pretty slow in terms of making new business relief available for a lot of small businesses particularly those who didn’t already have relationships with banks that gave SBA loans. We added some funding streams from the ARP and there’ll be more resources this round I think for the hard to reach business than in the past.”
The Chamber has worked with the Senator’s office on a Rebuild Rural America Initiative. Gillibrand reported that she and New York Congressman Antonio Delgado, a Democrat from the 19th district, reintroduced it this session. “We are trying to get it included in the infrastructure package which will be the next big recovery bill. And the Rebuild Rural America Act has specific dedicated resources for infrastructure to get to harder to reach rural areas.”
Chamber members, according to Douglas, are supportive of funding for a federal infrastructure bill that supports investment in mass transportation manufacturing, which in turn would support the bus and rail manufacturing cluster in the North Country. Rural broadband, he notes, is also of particular interest to the region. “It’s particularly timely that we see a shift from the state’s role in broadband and we need that continued investment in getting it out there. And also we need to link that to cell phone service as well.”
A major concern to North County businesses related by Douglas is loss of revenue due to the closure of the U.S.-Canada border and lack of progress to create an interim opening plan. “We don’t have a sense, particularly I have to say, from our Canadian friends that they’re as ready as we are perhaps to discuss these things.
Senator Gillibrand: It has been devastating for a lot of our businesses on the border and I’m optimistic that that’s something that President Biden will change soon.”
The pandemic heightened as a priority in the Chamber’s annual survey the need for accessible and affordable child care. Gillibrand says lack of child care services is harming the ability of families to return to work or recover from the pandemic. “We put $39 billion in the ARP for child care and includes an extra $1 billion investment for Head Start which is deeply needed.”
The Chamber will host Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James for a virtual discussion of issues on April 9th.