AKRON, OH – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined leaders of the Akron Zoo Thursday to tour the facility and show how Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds helped the zoo survive the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal funds helped the zoo reopen to the public and kept workers on the job.
“The American Rescue Plan and the Paycheck Protection Program have been lifelines for cultural institutions like the Akron Zoo. We know these parks and venues have been among those hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Brown. “Because of the investments we made with PPP, the zoo was able to keep its workers and survive this pandemic without a single layoff – and now they’re welcoming visitors again.”
Brown helped write and pass the American Rescue Plan, which included $50 billion in funding to help businesses and organizations keep their doors open and get back on their feet. A part of this legislation included an additional $7.25 billion for the PPP. The Akron Zoo received nearly $3 million in PPP funds which enabled it to close to the public at times due to the pandemic but remain open without laying off any staff.
"When you hear the zoo is closing because of COVID, your first thought is 'What is going to happen to my job?'" said Meredith Jenkins, Guest Experiences Operations Coordinator. "I am grateful that Zoo management committed to finding COVID relief funding to keep staff in place, even though ticket sales and concessions went down."
According to the Akron Zoo, before the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of 400,000 guests visited the zoo each year. In 2020, that number dropped to about 170,000. As of September of this year, the zoo has welcomed more than 260,000 visitors.
"The Akron Zoo is one of the few Zoos in the country accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that has avoided laying off any permanent year-round staff due to the effects of the pandemic." said Doug Piekarz, President and CEO of the Akron Zoo. "The Paycheck Protection Program is a major part of the reason why we have been able to weather this storm with staff capacity to resume programs and services at the moment health orders allowed, open the Lehner Family Foundation Wild Asia major expansion project during 2021, and accelerate our journey toward greater diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion at the Akron Zoo."
At Brown’s prompting, the U.S. Treasury Department clarified that park improvements are eligible uses of state and local funding from the Rescue Plan.