SARATOGA COUNTY — Saratoga County, where the economy is highly dependent on tourism, is planning to spend $50,000 during the next few months to not only let people know that small businesses have re-opened, but that it’s also safe for them to come visit.
With major tourism draws including the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Saratoga Race Course canceling most, if not all, public activities this summer because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the hope is to replace some of the advertising dollars they would have spent and promote small businesses and attractions across the county.
“We want to make sure this is not just a Saratoga Springs campaign, that this is a Saratoga County campaign,” said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “We won’t be talking about the track, we won’t be talking about SPAC, we will be talking about the small businesses that are re-opening in every one of our communities.”
After a lengthy discussion, the county Board of Supervisors’ Economic Development Committee voted 6-1 on Wednesday to approve the funding, requested by the Re-Opening Advisory Committee. The committee approval means the full Board of Supervisors will vote on the request Tuesday.
“It’s an investment, to show support for our business community,” said committee Chairman John E. Lawler, R-Waterford, who also chairs the Re-Opening Advisory Committee.
The money would be spent on a promotional campaign put together by the county’s chamber of commerce, and would be in addition to the $375,000 the county already spends with the chamber to promote visitation by people from 100 to 300 miles away — those likely to stay overnight.
Instead, Shimkus told the committee, the proposed campaign would use social media advertising and local cable and broadcast television ads to let people who live nearby know about what’s open in the county. The chamber considers the campaign so important that it has already started it, without a guarantee of county funding, Shimkus said.
Charles V. Wait Sr., chairman of the board at Adirondack Trust Co in Saratoga Springs and a member of the Re-Opening Advisory Committee, said the spending would be important, since the city will be without Saratoga Race Course open to the public for the first time since World War II, and the region and nation are in a recession.
“I think the need for things to help small business is obvious,” Wait told the committee. “It seems obvious to me we want people from outside the county to come into this county, and for the county to get occupancy tax and sales tax.”
Lawler said the promotions will be geared specifically to the kinds of businesses and attractions that can re-open in each of New York’s re-opening phases. The Capital Region is currently in Phase 2, but could go to Phase 3 — with indoor restaurant dining allowed, with a 50 percent seating capacity — as soon as next Wednesday. Museums could open in Phase 4, which could start as soon as July 1, if local COVID cases don’t start rising to unmanageable levels again.
One committee member, Jonathan Shopf, R-Clifton Park, voted against the spending proposal. He suggested the county instead emulate Rensselaer County, in defying state guidelines and simply announcing businesses are open. County and local governments are in a revenue crisis because of the pandemic, he noted.
“This isn’t the time to start spending money, and we need to cut back on these public-private partnerships,” Shopf said. “We need [to] focus on our core responsibilities.”