WOOSTER — It's been a difficult year for businesses.
Despite the challenges, economic development agencies have worked nonstop to encourage shopping local and supporting the business community in Wooster and Wayne County.
Wooster City Council passed a resolution Monday night to assist with funding for three agencies — Main Street Wooster, the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce and the Wayne County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The agencies rely on bed tax for a large portion of their budgets.
The stay-at-home order and the cancelation of events throughout the year resulted in less people traveling and staying in hotels. With fewer hotel says, bed tax was significantly down for 2020.
Jon Ansel, councilman At-Large, said bed tax has been calculated through November. The city anticipates collecting roughly $121,000 for the year — less than half of what the city usually collects, he said. Between 2016 and 2019, the city averaged $275,000 annually.
Traditionally, 48% of bed tax receipts are divided among the economic development partners and 52% is collected by the city, which goes into the general fund. The city's portion includes a 4% administrative fee.
At the Monday meeting, council amended the resolution to allocate 100% of the city's 48% share to be divided among the economic development partners.
With the resolution, 4% of bed tax collected in 2021 will go to the city's general fund, and 96% will be distributed to the three agencies monthly, said Andrei Dordea, city finance director.
The increase in percentage is a one-time change to help the agencies recuperate from funding lost during 2020 when bed tax receipts were down significantly.
For the first $50,000, Main Street receives 57.5%, the chamber receives 37.5% and the WCCVB receives 5%. After the first $50,000, Main Street receives 50%, the chamber receives 30% and WCCVB receives 20%.
Scott Myers, Ward 3 councilman, suggested allocating the city's portion to the agencies during the Nov. 16 meeting.
City administration worked hard to be proactive, and the city has fared well despite the challenges of the year, Myers said.
"We didn’t want to have such a negative impact because this bed tax allocation is so important to the three bodies that receive it," Ansel said. "That would be a devastating blow."
Martha Starkey, executive director of the Wayne County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said WCCVB's budget operates solely on bed tax. The organization receives funding from the 3% countrywide bed tax, which is the bulk of the budget, and Wooster.
Wooster sends its portion of the bed tax to WCCVB monthly while the county sends it quarterly, Starkey said.
WWCVB is dedicated to promoting Wayne County and any business within its borders. The increase from council will provide “some much needed funds in the first part of the year to promote and hopefully get things going again,” Starkey said.
The cancellation of the Ohio Light Opera was a huge blow to the local economy, she said.
When out-of-towners come to see OLO, they stay in local hotels. They eat in local restaurants. They shop at local retailers.
OLO brings in at least $5 million every summer, Starkey said.
“That really hurt everybody,” she said.
Less motorcoaches have visited the county this year, and less people are doing business-related travel as well, Starkey said. The Ohio Travel Association’s annual conference was supposed to be held in Wayne County this year, but was canceled due to the virus.
In 2019, WCCVB received $371,589.45 by Nov. 30. In 2020, WCCVB received $210,184.51 through the end of November, according to numbers provided by WCCVB.
'More with less'
Samira Zimmerly, president of the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce, took over as head of the chamber in October. She has been working at the organization for 10 years now, but 2020 proved an interesting year to take the reigns.
Throughout the year, the chamber focused on being a resource to the business community and providing support whenever possible.
Some major fundraisers were canceled due to the pandemic and restrictions on gatherings including in-person WoosterFest and the Wayne County Home and Garden Show, which played a significant role in a decreased budget. The chamber is usually very event heavy, Zimmerly said.
The chamber has cut back on spending and is trying to “do more with less” in terms of resources, funding and staff, she said.
Zimmerly previously served as the director of events and programs, which was not filled after she began as president.
“This year has been a challenging year for everyone the chamber included,” she said.
Though Woosterfest couldn’t be held in the traditional sense, the chamber held a virtual event to encourage people to shop at Wooster businesses. The chamber also has held educational webinars for local businesses on topics such as personal protective equipment and grant or financial assistance opportunities.
Loyal to Local, an ongoing event, kicked off Nov. 26 and will run through Jan. 4 as a way to encourage residents to shop local this holiday season.
“Our focus for now is to continue being a good resource to members and the community and trying to do everything to help the business community weather this storm,” Zimmerly said.
Shannon Waller, executive director of Main Street Wooster, said the organization is very grateful to be receiving more funding in the coming year.
A third of Main Street’s revenue comes from the bed tax. Another third comes from partner contributions, and the final third comes from event sponsorships.
Without the extra bed tax money, Main Street would have needed to significantly reduce its events and programming, Waller said.
Coming up with COVID-friendly events has been challenging, she said. She and the program coordinator John Benko-Scruggs were able to adapt Window Wonderland to follow COVID-19 guidelines. The kickoff to the holiday season moved its the traditional tree lighting ceremony and Santa Claus arrival to a virtual platform. Children were not able to see Santa face-to-face, but were able to pose with him through the window of Wayne Savings Community Bank.
The duo, however, couldn’t find a way to make the Taste of Downtown or the annual wine and beer tasting COVID-friendly and were forced to cancel those 2020 events.
It's unclear what the long term impacts of COVID will be, Waller said. Restaurants and businesses have had to change their business models to keep up with the changing regulations.
Having the extra funds will allow Main Street to recruit new businesses to fill the few empty storefronts and keep downtown well-rounded with a variety of shops, Waller said.
“It’s like trying to ride a tsunami on a surfboard,” she said. “It was a lot of chaotic forces happening at once and trying our best to stay above water not only our organization but also our partners who were trying to navigate the changing rules and all different restrictions.”
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