The mayors of Parkersburg, Marietta, and Belpre are leading efforts to help small business owners stay afloat as the local economy begins to slowly re-open. Chiefly among them, Parkersburg’s city council approved a small business relief program on May 5 to help employers with 25 or fewer employees. Priority will be given to companies with 10 or fewer employees, said Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce.

“We are going to appropriate our community development block grant money for small business relief,” said Joyce. “It will help small businesses with their unmet needs: Maybe they got some fed protection money, but maybe they need help with rent assistance or inventory.”

Joyce said program loans of up to $5,000 might be forgivable in 90 to 120 days if a business is still struggling but can show they’ve kept their employees on the payroll. This parameter is pending council approval.

Also in the works is a possible business and occupation (B&O) tax exemption, a plan Joyce intends to present for council’s consideration at their May 19 meeting. This plan could exempt a certain number of B&O taxes for some businesses “capturing 99% of the small businesses.” 

“It will be proposed for the $500-$1,000 range,” he said. “It would not be for all categories, but for those we believed to be most impacted.”

We want to make an environment that makes it easier for them to make decisions.

Mayor Joyce

Joyce said tax deadlines would also be extended, allowing businesses an additional 30 days to file.

“Uncertainty and a lack of confidence are two of the worst things you can have in business,” he said. “[We want to] make an environment that makes it easier for them to make decisions.”

A final piece Parkersburg implemented early on was free parking downtown, allowing for ease of restaurant curbside pick-up.

“With Highmark [Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia] and the Bureau of the Fiscal Service out, our downtown businesses are going to suffer until those businesses come back to work,” he said, explaining the need to allow for free parking to encourage others to come downtown to get carryout.

Free parking was explored in downtown Marietta, said Mayor Josh Schlicher, but the need wasn’t as urgent there, with ample parking available then and now. 

“We walked downtown to all restaurants and asked if they needed any modification for parking downtown,” said Schlicher. “The majority said no, since there is lots of parking on-street due to other businesses being closed. But we did give that option.”

Schlicher said the city has stayed in contact with the Chamber of Commerce and Marietta Main Street, giving them what the city knows and what’s coming through their office in terms of relief programs or federal programs. 

“It’s been frustrating dealing with some of that,” he said. “Announcements were made but no guidelines were set forth. We are not sure when the money is coming in.”

He said the city has received questions they haven’t been able to answer for fear of putting out incorrect information. 

We are anxious to see downtown come back to life and working again.

Mayor Schlicher

“We have done what we can by staying in touch, mainly,” said Schlicher. “There are so many different unknowns.”

He added he has been on conference calls with Congressman Bill Johnson and other Ohio mayors, many of whom are feeling similarly stuck. 

To Marietta business owners, Schlicher says to try to hang tight.

“Some say they can weather the storm, but others are saying they are seriously thinking about shutting the doors on their business,” he said. “We are anxious to see downtown come back to life and working again.”

In Belpre, parking is less of a concern as well, but Mayor Michael Lorentz is ensuring resources are available to residents.

“The Senior Center is monitoring the meal needs for seniors and [Belpre Area Ministries] is also aware,” he wrote to Clutch MOV over email. “And the food pantry is open.”