Although the pandemic created economic challenges never experienced by this generation of businesses and residents, Washington County recently received encouraging news concerning its economic performance and the business activity that occurred in 2020. The results further highlighted the resiliency of our economy, provided reasons for optimism and underscored the necessity to further support our local small businesses.

In 2020, our county attracted 73 new economic development and infrastructure projects accounting for over $281 million in capital investment. Projects such as the Ameri-Precision Metals plant in Canonsburg, Progeny Systems’ expansion to Cecil Township and Tekni-Plex’s facility in Burgettstown all demonstrated our county’s ability to attract new and diverse business investment as well as capitalize on existing job opportunities in a down economy. In addition, local utilities continued to invest in new water, sewage and other infrastructure development in the county. These investments were complemented by over $6.6 million in Washington County Local Share Account funds directed by the Washington County commissioners toward additional infrastructure and development projects across the county. These successes were achieved notwithstanding our economy being practically closed for nine months last year.

Still with all these new investments, we cannot minimize the devastating effects the pandemic had on our local small businesses. Fortunately, Washington County’s public and private sectors worked together to proactively identify and administer grants and loans to sustain these businesses. Utilizing the Payroll Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loans, the PA COVID Working Capital Access Program and Washington County Small Business and Non-Profit Grant Program provided countless small businesses with access to capital and resources to keep their businesses open and their employees working. In total, over $493 million was awarded to assist local businesses retain their viability and workforce.

The past year also emphasized the importance of local businesses in the vibrancy of our communities and exposed the tenuous position they were placed in through the combined pressures of the pandemic-related economic downturn and their inability to conduct business due to government mandated restrictions. This “perfect storm” of factors created a situation that both injured our small-business community and, ironically, led to additional government intervention. While many have been able to weather the pandemic, sadly others have not. That is why it is incumbent on us to support our local businesses and help our economy at a grassroots level.

Ultimately, the past year has demonstrated that the successful economic development strategies that make Washington County an economic and job creation leader-investment in infrastructure, strategic diversification of our economy and marketing our county as a premier investment location has helped us endure the current economic downturn and will position the county to emerge stronger when the pandemic passes. However, we must not only continue to build on these successful strategies, but also focus on fostering and supporting a vibrant small-business community.

Jeff Kotula is president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Promotion Agency.

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