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A unique and exclusive feature of Erie County's economy as a part of the Midwest's economy is our strong performance in tourism. Built around our greatest asset, Lake Erie, our tourism economy is a defining factor and competitive edge when comparing Erie County to similar communities.


As proud as we are of our tourism economy, it also proved to be a downfall for our region in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. With strict travel restrictions, the tourism industry came to a grinding halt. Despite warm weather enabling some activity to go on in this industry, the onus was still on our small businesses to make consumers feel safe and secure with getting our of the house. We're proud of these companies and RISE Small Business Innovation Grant winners for the extra effort they made to restore the outdoor recreation industry.


1. Crystal Rock Campground

Having just purchased Crystal Rock Campground prior to the pandemic, owners Heidi and Greg Lockwood found themselves in a very difficult situation. Planned improvements and activities to grow the business likely wouldn't be possible without high tourist traffic to the area. Nonetheless, they took all the right steps, prioritizing customers and their safety. While camping may be safer than most activities with ample space to social distance, there was still room for improvement. The Lockwoods signed on to CampersApp. The new digital tool for campground camping allowed visitors to complete contactless check-in, digital waivers, contactless camp supply shopping, and emergency alert systems. This tool helped Crystal Rock make the most of the brief camping season, ensuring guests were safe.



2. West River Paddling Company

Similar to camping, at first glance paddling on the river seems it should be safe from coronavirus. But our small business owners have to think of the big picture and every step of the process. West River Paddling did just that, implementing a host of new procedures and investing in new equipment to make the paddling experience nearly contactless and undoubtedly safe. Reducing their equipment inventory and requiring reservations with limited group size could certainly impact their business, but West River knew it was the best way to keep everyone safe. They also took their waiver digital and implemented new cleaning procedures that would greatly impact turnaround time. But most impressive was their investment in EZ Dock kayak launches - allowing kayakers to launch unassisted and therefore keeping physical distance from others.




While we know these changes in operations, technology, and equipment are expensive and time consuming for these local business owners, we're confident that their investment in their customers' health and safety will pay them back in the end. Thank you Crystal Rock and West River for all you've done to revive the outdoor recreation landscape in Erie County!



They say "it takes a village".... while the proverb may be talking about raising a child, at our office we believe the same is true for running a small business. It takes a village...to support you, guide you, help you learn lessons, share success and failures, and so much more.


When the pandemic "hit" in March, our first reaction on how to be strong, supportive members of that "village" was to promote 'shop local' and share information about how local businesses were operating - but that quickly became ineffective as regulations became stricter and stricter on business operations.


Shortly thereafter we came up with a better idea which thankfully received full support from several of our philanthropic partners - the Randolph J. & Estelle M. Dorn Foundation and the Erie County Community Foundation. With their support we developed the RISE Small Business Innovation Grant. The grant was designed to provided a bit of extra needed financial support to small businesses that were adapting to changing health and safety regulations, while doing everything they could to continue to manage a successful business operation.


Today we'll spotlight six of the RISE Small Business Innovation Grant recipients. These companies in the health and wellness industry had to think on their feet and make significant operating changes to hold onto their customers and keep them safe.



1. CrossFit Sandusky

Immediately upon receiving shutdown orders, CrossFit Sandusky thoughtfully took the initiative to suspend memberships. They also began renting equipment to their members to workout from home. It's just not the same though....thankfully in May gyms were permitted to reopen and CrossFit continued to keep their members top of mind, partnering with Hybrid Athlete Foundation to become a 24/7 gym. Members were able to reserve open gym times at any time of day outside of class times.


2. Functional Fitness for Life

Owned and operated by personal trainer Barb Biltz, pre-pandemic Functional Fitness for Life specialized in classes and personal training on-site at gyms and fitness facilities. The pandemic made that totally impossible. With a clientele of primarily older individuals

who need specialized exercise programming that takes into account their individual abilities and limitations, Barb had to think fast. She quickly began using Facebook Live, Facetime, and Zoom to work one on one with clients. It sounds easy, but the learning curve and physical adjustments for the older adults was no small task. Not to mention the added insurance and other precautions necessary for the business owner.


3. Integrated Therapeutic Healing

Similar to Trainer Biltz, Integrated Therapeutic Healing was delivering their physical therapy and healing services in-person. Due to the medical nature of physical therapy services, owner Patty Abrigo had to quickly find affordable HIPAA compliant software to continue serving clients.


4. North Shore Running Store

For North Shore Running Store the pandemic couldn't have hit at a worse time. In the height of high school track season and entering road race and outdoor running season, suddenly people couldn't leave the house. The shop got creative offering curbside pickup and custom fittings by appointment. They also got their creative juices flowing and ran a "Running the Front Lines" promotion to provide proper footwear to frontline and healthcare workers.


5. Open Way Yoga

"Breathe in, breathe out" isn't quite the same when you have a mask on. As a health-centered business, Open Way Yoga has taken pandemic restrictions very seriously, immediately pivoting to online, live-streamed classes. They also offered free community support classes such as Self-Care Practices for Stay-at-Home, Eye Exercises for Excessive Screen Time, Get the Wiggles Out for kids stuck at home, etc. As regulation allowed, Open Way Yoga began partnering with Cities to offer outdoor programming.


6. Therapy Pros

A young and ambitious physical therapy and pain management practice, Therapy Pros wasted no time in ensuring clients could receive needed healthcare during these turbulent times. Rearranging their physical space, implementing new tools for no-touch service, and adding telehealth to their practice enabled this group to stay in business during the pandemic.


While it seems all we've thought about in 2020 is our health, it's stories like these that remind us that our health is so much more than just COVID. ECEDC is proud to work with these innovative and responsive businesses that understand the many aspects of physical health as well as mental health, financial health, and community health. Congratulations on your hard work these last months!


2020 has been a weird year. I guess that goes without saying. Though we've all grown tired of the "times like these" refrain, there's one thing our office hasn't grown tired of, and that's getting to be a part of and witness to the amazing stories of perseverance and innovation in our local businesses.


No one knew what to do in early March when a state of emergency was declared in Ohio. No one, no person, or no business. No playbook existed, and we had to look back over 100 years for an even comparable event of scale. While no doubt devastating, the conditions were ripe for innovation. New problems to solve, new conditions under which to solve the problems, and extreme urgency.


Over the next few days we'll take a look at a few local companies that have dug down deep to find their entrepreneurial spirit, making the necessary pivots to remain relevant and remain in business during these "unprecedented times".


First up, we have a group of small businesses who responded to the market immediately, making pivots in product offerings to serve new demand.


1. Brady Signs

One of the early challenges for all businesses operating throughout the pandemic was communication. We were thrown into immediate information overload while trying to understand new rules and regulations. Brady Signs was able to solve this problem for many producing pandemic-specific signage as seen below. Carefully-designed commercial signage helped many businesses address new changes while making everyone feel welcome.




2. Buderer Drug

As a regional pharmacy, Buderer Drug's business is already a part of our community's health. Months before the state of emergency in Ohio, Buderer began preparing for the effects of a pandemic. They received special permission from the FDA to purchase the chemical needed to make hand sanitizer in house. It should be no surprise that demand was immediate.



3. FTG of Greater Ohio

As companies worked to adapt to shifting work environments, the team at Flex Technology Group launched a free webinar series to educate companies on the tools and resources to help with the transition to remote work. Topics covered things like document and process automation, software solutions, and productivity and balance.



4. Label Aid

Many of Label Aid's customers are in the Food and Beverage industry. As need for hand sanitizer skyrocketed, brewers, distillers, and the like adjusted their business models to provide sanitizer, meaning they had different than usual label needs. Label Aid was able to quickly accommodate. Many of the companies were donating sanitizer to organizations in need in their own community, and Label Aid supported that effort with label donation.




5. Parallax Lighting

Having built their brand and business on retro-fitting commercial and industrial properties with energy-efficient LED lighting, Parallax Lighting found itself with an immediate challenge in March - businesses paused all investment into their properties. Through industry insight, Parallax was prepared and immediately shifted to "Mobile Ultraviolet Disinfection Services". Using hospital-grade UV systems, Parallax, under the brand GoSafe UV, is providing UV-C cleaning services for restaurants, offices, schools, medical facilities, public buildings, and more.



While we are so impressed and so proud of how these companies innovated to keep their own business relevant, we're more impressed with how they've done it in a way to solve problems for their peers, enabling businesses all throughout our community to stay safely in operation. Thank you to these visionary and responsive small businesses!


LET'S CONNECT

247 Columbus Ave., Suite 126
Sandusky, OH 44870

Phone: (419) 627-7791

Email: office@eriecountyedc.org

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ABOUT ECEDC

A private non-profit organization serving our community through comprehensive economic development programs. We're here to help individuals and businesses start, stay, and grow in Erie County.