As you are aware, many government restrictions have been put in place to control the spread of coronavirus over the last few months. We are now preparing to re-open Salem County in a measured and safe manner.
Therefore, as discussed during the May 6, 2020 Freeholder Meeting, we have formed the Salem County Re-Opening Task Force to address the economic, social and community issues associated with public health crisis. Freeholders Charles Hassler and Mickey Ostrum, liaisons to the Economic Development Council, are working with this group. The first task was to contact Governor Phil Murphy requesting that Salem County be allowed to reopen. This was done last week with a letter outlining our needs as a rural county and the lack of financial help from the government. We stressed that this can be done with social distancing guidelines in place.
This is an unprecedented time for Salem County. We are forging new roads now and will continue to do so after the pandemic. We are entertaining all ideas for safe business practices. Our Task Force members are listed below. Please contact any of them with your ideas for operating safely during these exceptional times.
Salem County Re-Opening Task Force
John Bibeau, President, Tri-County Pest Control
Sean Elwell, Mayor, Elsinboro Township
Martin Erder, Owner, Hitchner’s Furniture
Charles Hassler, Salem County Freeholder
Christina Humphreys, Executive VP, Fulton Bank
Jennifer Jones, Executive Director, Salem County Chamber of Commerce
Lou Joyce, Director, South Jersey Economic Development District
Kenny Krycicki, Sr., Owner, Quick Snips II Salon
Kathleen Mills, Director, Salem County Economic Development, Cultural Affairs & Tourism Gordon Ostrum, Salem County Freeholder
Mark Valente, Chair, Salem County Economic Development Advisory Council
Honorable Gov. Murphy:
On behalf of the Salem County Freeholders, the Salem County Chamber of Commerce and our county-wide Re-Opening Task Force, we submit for your consideration reasons to open Salem County small businesses in a safe and diligent way. It is concern for our residents’ welfare that we write to you during this pandemic.
Our health department is hard at work at our test site and is monitoring the COVID-19 spread, which to date has infected less than .6% of our population.
Unique to the rest of the State, Salem County is primarily rural. Residential, commercial, and industrial usage occupies only 12% of our total land usage. Agriculture occupies 48% and the balance is comprised of park, wildlife management areas, meadows, and water. So, as you can see, we are truly rural.
As a rural area our big business is our small businesses. With few large retailers, we rely extensively on small businesses. Small business in Salem County is defined as sole proprietorships and businesses with 15 employees or less. This makes up 96% of our business profile. Consequently, our unemployment rate has risen from the pre-pandemic level of 5.3% to a current 15.6 % and continues to rise. Prior to COVID-19 our County lagged in all measurable indices since the 2008 recession. This pandemic has hit us extremely hard.
Recent surveys of local businesses assure us that they are prepared to open, prioritizing the safety of the public and employees. Using CDC guidelines, they are ready to operate within Federal guidelines with adherence to social distancing, proper PPE, employee monitoring, proper sanitation, and disinfection. As the States of Delaware and Rhode Island begin to open we can take lessons from their plans and their progress.
We have conducted a survey which indicates a loss of income, over 9 million dollars from small business respondents, (5.14.20) and revealed that only 45% of applying businesses have received any financial assistance from State or Federal COVID-19 programs. Local businesses with licenses in adjoining States can work there, but are unable to work similar jobs in New Jersey, a loss of tax revenue. We continue to lose business to the State of Delaware. We were not designated in the first round of the funding that came to New Jersey from the Federal government – this has left us disappointed and with minimal resources. The pain is real and growing worse.
We understand the Road Back’s 6 principles and benchmarks and believe public health is critical to a full recovery of the economy. Our unique economy is not built to be sustainable while our neighbors to the North, with large dense populations and more diverse economies, work their way back.
Please consider Salem County as unique to New Jersey and a perfect place to begin the road back for our State. As we ensure our success, we can inspire other counties to a fuller reopening with lessons learned. We are not a tourist destination and our farms are spread across 373 square miles, limiting the number of outsiders which come to our community. Of our working residents, 72% work in the County. Primarily we are local businesses selling to residents. We have identified resources for local businesses to operate in a safe manner as they return to service and have a campaign ready to go promoting our small business resources and the Shop Local theme.
Please consider this request as the nation moves forward to strike a balance between economic hardship and reducing the spread of COVID-19. Let Salem County open our businesses within CDC and Federal government guidelines as soon as possible. Know we are first and foremost concerned with safeguarding the health and welfare of our residents. We are ready to go – just give us the word!