U.S. Small Business Administration chief Isabella Casillas Guzman, right, chats at the Baseball Hall of Fame with, from left, Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch, Vice President Eric Strohl, and Congressman Antonio Delgado during a March 4 tour of small businesses in Cooperstown.
SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, a member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet, stopped first with the Congressman at Cooperstown Distillery, joined there by village Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh, Otsego County Treasurer Allen Ruffles, and regional SBA officials. Distillery owner Gene Marra hosted the tour.
“We believe in local small businesses,” Mr. Marra told the delegation. “We use local grains from our farm in Canajoharie and from Rochester, we get our barrels from Remsen. It’s a complete New York thing.”
He pointed to assistance from the Village and the SBA in his work to expand his Railroad Avenue business from 3,000 to 12,000 square feet; Rep. Delgado noted the expansion of the craft beverage marketplace as important to upstate New York’s economy.
“Agritourism is big business in this part of the country,” Mr. Marra agreed. As he displayed the Distillery’s exclusive baseball, football, and golf club-shaped bottles, he noted, “The Wall Street Journal is calling New York the ‘Kentucky of the North’ because we’re distilling so much world-class bourbon. There are 90 distilleries here now, of course, ours is the best of them!”
Rep. Delgado and Administrator Guzman next visited Cooperstown Bat, a manufacturer of game-ready baseball bats for players of all ages and the third-oldest bat company in the United States. Owner Tim Haney led a tour through the facility, among the tens of thousands of small businesses across the country receiving Paycheck Protection and COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan funding. Mr. Haney discussed the process to make game-use bats from wood.
Before ending the afternoon with a meeting of Rep. Delgado’s small business roundtable at Cooperstown’s Village Hall, the group headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame where Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch and Eric Strohl, the Hall’s Vice President of Exhibits and Collections, led a tour through the museum’s highlights.
“The world is coming back,” Mr. Rawitch said. “We’re hoping for 100,000 guests this year; we’re in a way better spot than we were a year ago.”
Administrator Casillas Guzman spoke with the Hall’s officials about the importance of Shuttered Venues Operators Grants – a pandemic-era funding program that helped tourist attractions like the Hall of Fame keep the books balanced when COVID rules kept the buildings closed to visitors. Stopping by to admire the Hall’s exhibits featuring women in baseball and the history of the Negro Leagues, she proudly proclaimed her love for the Los Angeles Dodgers and spoke of a prior visit to Cooperstown.
“I was here before when our kids played a tournament at Dreams Park,” she said. “My family loved it here and we’ve been eager to get back.”
After the tour, Administrator Casillas Guzman spoke with The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta about the SBA’s goals as the nation begins to claw back from COVID’s grip. She said ARPA funding and the Biden Administration’s infrastructure package were key to growth.
“The SBA exists to connect small businesses to the information they need,” she said. “We’re here to help with avenues to financing, market growth and access, technical help. Lending that assistance has led to a 30 percent growth in business start-ups over the past year.”
She said the SBA and the Biden Administration aren’t focused solely on manufacturers.
“Just today we have a report of 600,000 new jobs coming on line in February,” she said during the March 4 tour. “So many of these are in the restaurants and stores that are opening back up.”
“Going forward we need to be lending the help businesses rely on as they expand their own digitization and outreach to customers,” she said, noting the work of the SBA’s Digital Alliance program. “That’s why an infrastructure package is so vital to small businesses in Otsego County.”
Speaking with The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta, Rep. Delgado echoed her comments and focused on a policy priority he has espoused throughout the debate leading up to what he called “the bipartisan infrastructure initiative that we passed last year.”
“Broadband,” he said. “As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, it was digital that became the way businesses stayed alive. The bipartisan infrastructure package is so important to rural communities throughout Otsego County as we rebuild Main Street and keep it growing.”
“We bring more people here with better broadband,” he said.
Rep. Delgado also noted the importance of bringing area roads up-to-speed for delivery and travel needs.
“There was a report out there about 80 percent of Otsego County’s roads in need of repair,” he said. “We have to make sure the trucks can get here to deliver the products and keep the area growing.”