Hospitality Recovery Group takes on mission to help Cleveland small businesses navigate pandemic, future emergencies

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Posted at 9:10 AM, Jan 31, 2022

CLEVELAND — Many Cleveland small businesses have yet to recover after now years of enduring a pandemic.

“People are still out sick. So staffing is still an issue,” said Sean Watterson, president and co-owner of Happy Dog. “Omicron put a serious hurt on the entire sector.”

Watterson says while he was fortunate to retain employees, other businesses haven't been so lucky.

“I think I think there's no going back to the way things were,” he said.

We know as the challenges of the pandemic worsen with the discovery of more variants and ever-changing health orders, the struggles faced within the city's hospitality industry worsen as well.

Results from a new Goldman Sachs survey found 79% of small businesses are concerned about the pandemic and the omicron variant. Moreover, 84% report pressures due to inflation are increasing since last fall. It goes on to show 97% say labor shortages are hurting their bottom line, which is a 17% increase since September.

“We know how important this industry is for our live economy in Cleveland,” said Bishara Addison, director of Job Participation at Fund for Our Economic Future. “After they've gone through such a psychological shock as COVID, as well as kind of what we're calling the twin pandemics of also this kind of racial reckoning that our country has gone through, individuals are reevaluating their lives and thinking about making different choices.”

Addison explained Fund for our Economic Future, which is a network of city civic leaders, is setting out to create hope and change starting with evaluating job quality and pay.

“I think we have more jobs than we have people,” she said. “I'd imagine that there is a broader pool of individuals to connect within the restaurant industry, but those jobs are competing with jobs that have much higher wage premiums.”

With investment and grant support from several partners in addition to planned fundraising, the group is exploring ways to build with economic growth. According to its website, Watterson is helping the group as a senior consultant. The site states Watterson “will be responsible for identifying both short-term and long-term solutions to improve the hospitality industry’s ability to attract, retain and promote workers in the position housed within the Fund for Our Economic Future, with funding support from Cuyahoga County’s Department of Development, the Deaconess Foundation and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and with additional support from Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.”

Watterson says while he understands nothing will ever be the same after covid, our city needs to work together to figure out a way to continue sparking joy and excitement through a new way of living.

“On the local level, there's American Rescue Plan funding and trying to figure out the best use for that. Short term is we need to help the folks, especially the ones who haven't gotten assistance yet,” he explained. “The hope is that we are going from pandemic to endemic.”

The group will test out strategies over the next three years. Then, they'll take what works and apply it to other industries in Cleveland as well.

For more information on the Hospitality Recovery Group, click here.