Chamber discusses local post COVID-19 response


Congressman Bruce Westerman took part in a Zoom meeting hosted by the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce to discuss ways the Chamber can assist local businesses as they return to work with restrictions. – Photo by Dewayne Holloway

MOUNT IDA – Members of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce gathered together via Zoom last Thursday afternoon to discuss ways to assist local businesses as they begin to reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Congressman Bruce Westerman joined the group to answer questions regarding Federal assistance for local businesses and municipalities.

The Congressman pointed out that rural areas such as Montgomery County and most of Arkansas have not had many confirmed cases of COVID-19. This partially due to the remote nature of the area combined with a lower population density. However, it was noted that people in Montgomery County have done a good job following government directives and social distancing policies.

Congressman Westerman talked briefly about the Small Business grants and loans that have been available, as well as the Payroll Protection Program which was made available to help small businesses meet payroll during the COVID-19 crisis.

Montgomery County Judge Sammy Jones asked about direct Federal assistance for local municipalities such as Montgomery County and local city governments. He stated that while they haven’t seen the affects of the virus on tax revenue yet the judge pointed out they anticipate a large decrease in revenue. He added that the county has developed plans that involve a decrease in the workforce to meet budget cuts due to an expected lack of funds.

He asked if there were any plans on the Federal level to offer financial assistance directly to local entities. Congressman Westerman pointed out that a Federal program which distributed funds directly to every county and city affected by the virus in the United States would be a logistical nightmare. He added that the Federal government provides funds to the states which can be shared with local governments. He suggested Judge Jones contact state officials for assistance.

Phillip Carr, Co-Owner of Shangri-La Resort, asked the Congressman if he had any information as to when the Corps of Engineers would reopen campgrounds in the area. Congressman Westerman pointed out that he Chairs one of the committees that oversees the work of the Corps of Engineers, but he had not heard of a reopening date.

Justin Neel, a teacher at Caddo Hills High School and a member of the county ARCO in Action Committee, asked Congressman Westerman if there was any plans for more Federal funding that could be used to bring better internet access to the area. He shared that with students confined to their homes a lack of adequate internet service has made completing homework difficult.

The Congressman stated that he understands the difficulty of accessing the internet in rural Arkansas. He  shared that he has to use a Verizon hotspot device to gain access to the internet at his residence.

Congressman Westerman stated that there are funds available to help fund the construction of broadband internet in rural underserved areas. The problem is that internet providers aren’t interested  in expanding into these areas. 

The group also discussed ways to help businesses promote safety and social distancing as they reopened with restrictions. A local unified marketing strategy was discussed. Talk included masks with a local logo, as well as signage businesses could print to educate patrons regarding restrictions in place as they reopen.

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