A pre-pandemic problem coming back to haunt us

I’ve lost track of how many of our business owners have told me that their biggest impediment to a robust economic recovery right now is filling jobs.
 
It’s actually a pre-pandemic problem coming back to haunt us.
 
When we surveyed our members in 2019 they told us that attracting and retaining workers was their top concern. And they said the hunt for talent was exasperated by traffic, inadequate public transportation, insufficient parking and a housing shortage.
 
Those problems haven’t gone away. 
 
We’ve just piled new problems – including a child care crisis, fear of contracting COVID and a growing skills gap -- on top. 
 
Some also blame enhanced unemployment benefits for keeping workers at home.
 
Nationally, job openings reached a record level of 8.1 million at the end of March, with openings in construction, manufacturing and hospitality leading the way.
 
A survey by the National Federation of Independent Business found that 42 percent of small businesses had jobs they couldn’t fill, also a record high.
 
On the other hand, there were still more unemployed Americans—9.7 million in March—than open jobs.
 
“Employers are looking to hire, but temporary factors are making people a little hesitant to take jobs,” Nick Bunker, an economist at Indeed tells the Wall Street Journal. The growing number of available jobs “shows how difficult it is to turn openings into hires.”

 
Newton poised to make it very difficult for gun shops
 
Newton City Councilors will meet tomorrow (Thursday) at 7 p.m. to discuss proposed changes to the zoning code that wouldn't ban, but would make it highly improbable, that a gun shop or other firearms business would ever open in Newton.
 
Mayor Fuller's Planning Department is recommending a 150-foot buffer between firearms businesses and residential areas and additional buffers of 1,000 feet from schools, child care centers, parks and playgrounds, among other things.
 
The complex array of buffers would effectively limit firearms businesses to The Street in Chestnut Hill (certainly unlikely) and two small areas near the Waltham line at Rumford and Riverview avenues, reports John Hilliard at the Globe.
 
(Watch a video of the proposed ordinance at about the 38:00 minute mark here.)
 
Other rules would limit allowable signage and hours. A separate proposal would aim to allow only one firearm business in Newton.
 
Of course, anything put in place could face a constitutional challenge.
 
 
Wondering which COVID rules still apply to your workplace? 
 
Massachusetts just revised many of its workplace guidelines. The protocols were updated to comply with other mandates, including masking, gatherings guidance and cleaning advisories.
 
To see what, if any, changes apply to your business or nonprofit, check these Mandatory Safety Standards for Workplaces and sector-specific protocols for guidance.
 
Some sectors that no longer have specific protocols, and have operated under capacity limits previously, should continue to adhere to the Sectors Not Otherwise Addressed protocols.
 
 
Restaurant grant program expected to run out of funds
 
It’s not too late to apply to the SBA’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program.
 
But it may be soon.
 
One week in, the $28.6 billion program has awarded $2 billion in grants to more than 16,000 applicants, with an average of roughly $125,000 per grant.
 
But here’s why the money may run out soon: For the first 21 days, the SBA is only approving applications for food businesses owned by women, veterans or socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
 
Once the 21 day period expires, larger establishments, including many that may qualify for grants of millions of dollars, will qualify, reports Andy Medici for the BBJ.
 
If you operate a food business and have yet to apply, you may want to join us tomorrow (Thurs) at 1 p.m. for a presentation about the program with chamber favorite Ili Spahiu from the SBA. Presented in partnership with the Mass Small Business Development Center.
 
 
Last (slim) chance to apply for PPP
 
While the majority of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program has been exhausted, at least four Massachusetts community financial institutions are still able to make PPP loans: Greylock Federal Credit UnionAscendusLeader Bank, and Workers Credit Union. The deadline is May 31.
 
 
Check out what these two city councilors just did
 
A resident with limited mobility recently reached out to Newton City Councilor Alicia Bowman frustrated that some restaurants' outdoor dining setups weren't handicap accessible.
 
Bowman could have just passed the complaint onto the city’s inspectional services and left it at that.
 
Instead, she recruited her council colleague Brenda Noel in search of a solution that would address the need without burdening our hard-hit restaurants.
 
Fast forward several weeks and Bowman and Noel spent Mother's Day morning in Newton Centre with a group of volunteers – lead by Ben Tucker, president at Chapman Construction -- building a platform in front of Bill’s Pizzeria on Beacon Street which made Bill's dining parklet level to the sidewalk and wheelchair accessible.
 
Now they’ve set their sights on building similar platforms for three other Newton restaurants; Grape Leaf in Newton Highlands, Four Spoons in Newton Centre and Cook in Newtonville.
 
The price of wood, as you may know, is at record highs. But National Lumber has offered to provide all materials at cost, which can still run upwards of $1,200 per buildout. So Noel started a Go Fund Me which has already raised enough for the upcoming build-outs.
 
Extra donations raised through their Newton Restaurant Platform Project will be used to build additional platforms or to help our local restaurants in other ways.
 
And if you're handy with power tools and want to volunteer with the buildout email Noel.
 
And that's today's Need to Knows. See you tomorrow.
 
 
Greg Reibman
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
Your chamber is here when you need us.

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