As New York moves toward May 15, the day tentatively set for a limited re-opening in some areas, 10 different groups are working to implement regional restart plans.
The Cortland area is part of the Central New York region, which includes Onondaga, Oswego, Madison and Cayuga counties. The effort to re-open this region is being overseen by an emergency task force created by Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon. But Cortland area officials have been also playing a role in shaping these plans.
According to the guidelines created by the governor’s office, re-opening will follow two phases:
- The first phase will include construction and manufacturing work with low risk of transmission.
- The second phase will include other businesses, with re-opening determined according to priority and risk level. Those deemed more essential and lower risk will re-open more quickly; those deemed higher risk and less essential will have to wait longer.
On April 23, Cortland County Legislature Chairman Paul Heider had a teleconferenced meeting with local officials and business leaders, including Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin, Homer Town Supervisor Fred Forbes and Garry VanGorder, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp. and Industrial Development Agency.
Heider said he collected suggestions that were relayed to McMahon’s task force, which in turn sent them to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. Heider would not detail what those suggestions were.
But he said Central New York is likely to be one of the first regions to re-open, since its number of COVID-19 cases is so low. Cortland County, he noted, has some of the lowest numbers in the state.
VanGorder, too, was optimistic Central New York would re-open more quickly than other areas.
“We are hoping that we are in that first wave of regions that are able to begin cautiously re-opening their economies,” he said.
Tobin and Forbes said they support the phased approach to re-opening to ensure health and safety.
“The governor has given direction and now it is incumbent on our regional leadership … to use that as guidance to make sure we’re meeting the state expectations,” Tobin said. “We need to get the economy moving, but we need to do that safely.”
“I think it’s imperative that our economy begins to get back to whatever a new normal is,” Forbes said. “If we don’t get our economy started, we are in danger of losing business that will never re-open again. I think that it’s important that we responsibly look at ways that we can get our businesses back to normal so that people can be employed.”
VanGorder has also been central to several regional planning meetings, including as a member of a business advisory group to McMahon’s emergency task force, which has been meeting “pretty much since this thing started.” Much of that initial work was focused on keeping up to speed with federal Small Business Administration loan programs, but is now shifting toward strategies for re-opening businesses, he said.
“It’s been good for our region that all of us are talking,” he said.
VanGorder is also a member of the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council, a group that will be instrumental in guiding the process. This council is, in ordinary times, the state government entity that oversees the selection and distribution of millions of dollars in state grants every year, but that council met last week to discuss how it can modify its function for the next state grant season to address the economic damage resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, VanGorder said.