SAINT JOHNS COUNTY – St. Johns County and the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce announce a collaborative effort to support and revive business in St. Johns County, while encouraging new growth opportunities as COVID-19 economic recovery efforts begin. St. Johns County Government highlighted the importance of strong business/government partnerships to the successful re-opening plans.
“The St. Johns County’s Economic Recovery Response Team was formed in early April with representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, City of St. Augustine, Visitors and Convention Bureau and others to support our established businesses and workforce in recovery efforts,” said Joy Andrews, Assistant Administrator of Community Services, St. Johns County Government.
Addressing the critical need to support business, tourism, hospitality, and other key industries in navigating economic recovery efforts, partners joined forces to provide information and resources for businesses, employers, employees, residents, and visitors to safely reopen and restart local economies. Businesses, residents and visitors may access a roadmap which includes free information and links to COVID-19 Metrics, Business Assistance and Cares Act Resources, Business Openings, Job Opportunities and more at the Chamber’s website: https://www.sjcchamber.com/business-continuity-recovery. The county has also built a webpage with resources which is updated daily and can be found at: http://www.sjcfl.us/coronavirus/
The Chamber of Commerce is providing the business community with both online and direct information about financing programs, workforce initiatives and informative webinars, plus posting the County’s Shop and Dine listings with interactive maps. The Chamber is helping to promote the County’s new Back to Business Grant Program for eligible St. Johns County businesses.
The Back to Business Grant offers up to $10,000 in funding to assist local businesses that have suffered economic damage as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic with expenses related to rent or mortgage, utilities, and payroll.
According to Isabelle Renault, President/CEO of St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce, “Challenging times are when our community is tested and when leadership is critical. I am proud to be a St. Johns County resident and to see how our community leaders are collaborating by creating complementary initiatives that will lay the foundation for a steady reopening of our economy,” she said. “Through online presentations, our members have been generous in sharing their expertise to help our local businesses navigate the situation and create a safe, healthy and economically tangible turning point for them to operate,” said Renault. The St. Johns County Chamber is also welcoming businesses to subscribe to temporary monthly memberships at affordable pricing. Chamber members continue to receive regular communications concerning the latest governmental guidelines.
“We know we need to assist our businesses and residents alike,” stated Andrews. “So, the County initiated several programs to help all sectors of our economy.” St. Johns County established a Business Assistance Hotline and a Residents Assistance Hotline to aid in recovery efforts. To date, over 750 calls have been received and assistance has been provided. Two food drives were held to restock nearly 20 local food pantries. The County’s Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant, Back to Business grant, Rapid Reopen Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Assistance and Shop and Dine Programs are important initiatives all underway along with a temporary Commercial Fee Relief Initiative in place to further stimulate the economy. The County issues daily updates, advisories, and announcements along with its list of financial resources for businesses impacted by COVID-19 from County Administrator Hunter S. Conrad. Visit the website at https://www.sjcfl.us/coronavirus/index.aspx .
Attracting visitors back to St. Johns County is a key shared goal by the Response Team. The St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau (VCB) has promoted healthy travel information on its website. The City of St. Augustine provides personal protection equipment (PPE) face masks for businesses and visitors to purchase and approved the use of parking for outdoor dining when 25 percent capacity for restaurants was restricting them from being profitable. The City of St. Augustine Beach has also approved an emergency ordinance allowing for fee-free, expedited outdoor seating permits to help restaurants get back on their feet.
Named the healthiest county in Florida in 2019, St. Johns County took the epidemic seriously from day one, never became a “hotspot,” and will continue its efforts to remain a safe and healthy community.
The County Commission approved loaning $2 million in the current fiscal year from the General Fund into the marketing budget for the VCB to meet the extraordinary messaging needs during the recovery from the pandemic. “We intend to ensure that our visitors know that St. Johns county remains a very safe destination and that we offer natural, wide-open spaces within driving distance,” said Richard Goldman, President/CEO, VCB.