WESTERLY — Gov. Daniel McKee asked those gathered for the Misquamicut Business Association's 22nd annual meeting Thursday morning to implore their state representatives and senators to free up at least 10% of the state's allotment of federal American Rescue Plan funds to help restore the state's economy.
"Rhode Island has often had a reputation for being first in and last out of economic downturns. Right now I think we have a great opportunity to reverse that," McKee said.
He called on the General Assembly to authorize release of a portion of the $1.1 billion the state has received under the federal recovery plan. The funds should be used before the end of the year to provide assistance for businesses to adapt to new health protocols related to COVID-19, employee recruitment and training, facade upgrades and other services, McKee said.
"Our small businesses cannot wait for assistance, and we need to be impatient about that," McKee said.
While other state and federal programs have previously provided help, the state's business sector needs additional assistance, McKee said.
"We have to help the very businesses that have supported our state over the years to make sure their recovery is complete and to plug the gaps," McKee said.
The state must also address a dearth of workforce housing and should provide assistance for child care, McKee said.
McKee also said he would include business-friendly measures in the state budget to help level the playing field with competition in neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts.
During a question-and-answer period following the governor's remarks, MBA Executive Director Caswell Cooke Jr. noted that many businesses in Misquamicut and other parts of the town are struggling to find employees.
"What can be done to encourage people to get back to work?" Cooke said.
McKee said the pandemic has brought about a nationwide shift for many workers who have decided to pursue new fields. Additionally, he said, workers are holding out for higher wages.
"We are going to have to adapt our business models to that. It's a reality," McKee said.
McKee presented a certificate of special recognition to Willis "Dusty" Edgecomb for his service during World War II with the U.S. Army's 614th Ordinance Ammunition Company. Edgecomb, the founder of Dusty's Dairy Bar, has attained iconic status and deserves the state's "greatest admiration and deep gratitude for your service to our state and our country," the governor said.
Interim Town Manager and Police Chief Shawn Lacey also spoke. He encouraged business owners who have problems to call him.
"We have always considered ourselves partners with the business association," Lacey said of the police department.
The summer of 2021 presented fewer traffic problems than some recent summers and no major incidents, Lacey said. He also praised business owners for carefully regulating alcohol sales on the beach. The sales were approved by former Town Manager J. Mark Rooney starting in 2020 as a means to help businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic. After observing the practice for two years, Lacey said he had changed his position.
"I was dead-set against it ... but hats off to all the businesses because you did it right. We have received no complaints and I will support it going forward," Lacey said.
The MBA, which now has 161 members, recently wrapped up a successful Fall Festival that grossed $115,000 in revenue from admission fees and its share of ticket sales for rides, Cooke said. The festival's success depends significantly on the weather.
"We actually made money this year. Some years we have gone in the hole," Cooke said.
Cooke thanked town officials for paving a portion of Atlantic Avenue and committing to working on another section in the coming weeks and for repairing the village's road drainage system. He also noted that work on a long-anticipated eco-trail along a section of Winnapaug Pond will soon begin.
The MBA members elected all incumbents to serve on the association's board of directors for the new year. The directors are: President: Charles Trefes, Atlantic Beach Park; Vice President: Tim Brennan, Two Little Fish; Secretary: Robert L. Barber, Seafood Haven; Treasurer: Garry Algiere, Bayview Fun Park; Board Member: Joseph Taunton, Pleasant View Inn; Board Member: Rebecca Colucci, The Andrea; Board Member: Nunzio DiMarco, Venice/Winnapaug Inn; Board Member Alternate: Tom Jasulavic, Purple Ape; Allied Board Member: Dan Ashworth, Coca Cola; Allied Board Member: Tammy Joslin-Washington Trust Co.; Allied Board Alternate: Frankie Algiere, Berkshire Bank; Associate Board Member: Rebecca Greene, Cold Stone Creamery; Associate Board Member: Mike Granieri, Del’s of Westerly; Associate Board Alternate: Rachel Doyle, Westerly Education Center; and Associate Board Alternate: Walter Pawelkiewicz, WMP Consultants.