JOHNSTOWN, CAMBRIA COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — The coronavirus continues to change what everyday life looks like in communities around us and leaves many folks wondering if life will return to the normal we had before the virus. Like many, the city of Johnstown has been hit hard by COVID-19.
“We went from a city that was focused on economic development and helping businesses grow and develop to now looking at how can we maintain the existing business environment so they can withstand the pandemic,” says John Dubnansky, Economic Development Director for the city of Johnstown.
Dubnansky says it’s been a tough few months for the city.
“You know we have been riding that real positive wave of economic development here in the region over the past six to 12 months which has now been put on pause because of the pandemic.”
Some of the larger businesses have been able to work through the crisis, but others haven’t been as lucky.
“My concerns as mayor and I’m sure for others is the small businesses. Their inability to open and how long can they continue to survive without being open to the public,” says Frank Janakovic, Mayor of the city of Johnstown.
With many of those local shops struggling, Dubnansky says there might be some help on the way.
The city received a little under $760,000 in federal funding from the Housing Urban Development Program.
“Right now the city is working on the development of a program into which we’re going to look at the distribution of those funds out to the business community…but we’re still waiting on further federal guidance from HUD on how exactly we can go about doing that,” says Dubnansky.
Johnstown has also had big events like Thunder in the Valley and the A.A.A.B.A. Tournament canceled.
“When you cancel something like that there is a large effect on the entire community, not just the city but the region itself when we’re losing tens of thousands of people flocking our coming to Johnstown for any one of those events,” says Janakovic.
Those canceled events equate to huge losses in revenue.
“From an economic impact standpoint and visitor spending you’re probably looking in the neighborhood of you know $15-20 million throughout the region,” says Lisa Rager, Executive Director for Visit Johnstown.
Businesses aren’t the only ones struggling through all of this, but also the residents.
“Paying their rent, paying their taxes or paying any of their bills…as the city, we’re looking at all of that and it’s also going to affect the city when we get those payments, those tax revenues back in to cover our costs also in the city,” says Janakovic.
Johnstown has a history of recovering from disaster, whether it be a flood or a departing industry, Mayor Janakovic says they can get through it, it’s just not ideal.
“The timing of this isn’t the greatest because I feel like we’ve on an upswing bringing businesses into Johnstown, small businesses, rejuvenating the downtown area so it’s hitting even harder at this time.”
Dubnansky is optimistic about the future and assures residents they are doing everything they can.
“We’re hopeful that continued federal or state funding comes down through the city to help us help the business community and the residents as we can.”