Nearly $2 million in new aid is being made available to Howard County restaurants and hotels still struggling to regain their footing from the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the fourth round of aid to local businesses in Howard County as part of its HoCo Rise pandemic relief efforts. Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said the latest wave of aid is aimed at ensuring that some of the hardest hit businesses are still around as the county and state gradually lift restrictions that kept customers away.
“For many of us, we’re hopeful that this summer, we will be closer to normal and that means making sure that the local coffee shop or restaurant we still love will be here for us to enjoy,” said Ball.
Included in this round will be roughly $1.2 million in additional grants for restaurants. Another $500,000 is earmarked for hotels. All of the funding for the program comes from the state.
Howard County is home to roughly 10,000 businesses, 86% of which have fewer than 10 employees.
In the first three rounds, the county doled out $18 million in 2020. The county also kicked in an additional $2 million of county funding for relief efforts.
“Oftentimes they were the hardest hit,” said Ball. “For these employees and businesses, funding like this is a critical lifeline.”
Ball said the latest rounds of grants will be available for all restaurants and hotels but those that have not received aid in previous rounds will be prioritized.
The announcement of the additional local aid comes as the state is seeing sustained decreases in the rate of infections, transmission and hospitalizations even as the rate of vaccinations is beginning to show signs of leveling off.
Lawrence Twele, chief executive officer of the Howard County Development Authority, said that for businesses the pandemic has been “a very difficult time. Some have been severely impacted, but the overwhelming number of restaurants and hotels have survived and made it this far.”
“While things are looking up, it’s certainly no time to put our guard down and relax support,” he said.
The hospitality industry in Maryland — hotels, restaurants and casinos — was one of the hardest hit sectors of the economy during the pandemic. In the first two months of the pandemic, the industry accounted for one in every three jobs lost.
Now, that same industry is looking at the summer of 2021 with guarded optimism.
“2020 was just disastrous,” said Lance Cook, owner of Periodic Table, a Columbia restaurant. “It was really hard, but we made it through. Most of us made it through. 2021, the trends are looking up. We’re really excited about the future. We’re excited that people are starting to feel a little bit more secure in going out and people are getting vaccinated.”
Many hotels including Homewood Suites in Columbia were faced with dire financial consequences resulting in layoffs and, for some, temporary closures.
“We’re rebuilding,” said Yolande Lacan, general manager of the Homewood Suites in Columbia. “Guests are coming back. We’re able to call employees back. We’re not where we were, but we’re rebuilding.”