DOVER — The Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce is pushing to reopen more businesses by Monday, and will make a pitch to Gov. John Carney during a teleconference this afternoon.
CDCC President Judy Diogo said the organization’s letter to the governor on Monday emphasized “well thought-out plans” to provide a healthy environment for arriving patrons and employees. The correspondence was shared with the state’s 13 other chamber branches, who will also join the call, she said.
Currently, Phase 1 economic reopening is scheduled for June 1 under the governor’s state of emergency order. While some essential businesses have stayed open throughout COVID-19’s arrival in March, others later opened with restrictions and some remain shuttered.
In the past month, Ms. Diogo said eight CDCC business members - small retail stores - have closed permanently.
“That’s devastating to hear,” she said. “They said there was no possible way to continue due to the financial impact of being closed.”
Other business owners are, Ms. Diogo said, “desperate and frightened, some of them are angry and they feel frustrated. They’re confident in the steps they’ve taken to provide safe and secure settings and are ready to open back up and get to work. “
The CDCC has approximately 850 small- and mid-sized company members who have about 36,000 employees combined. Ms. Diogo said the recurring theme during discussions is that companies have outlined in great detail their plans to provide best practices upon reopening. Businesses would be amendable if hours are initially restricted, Ms. Diogo said.
“Businesses need the option to reopen at this point, which some might not do if they don’t feel ready to do that for whatever reason,” Ms. Diogo said. “For those that do, however, we all feel very confident and trust that they’ve made serious and well thought-out efforts to safely accommodate anyone associated with them.”
On Tuesday, Delaware State Chamber of Commerce President Mike Quaranta said there’s been widespread planning for safe openings for several weeks now.
“… Many (businesses) are ready and have reorganized their workplace footprint, procured the necessary cleaning and personal hygiene products for employees and customers, and more.
“Many of our members are ready to restart operations or expand already-open businesses. They’ve taken precautionary steps to minimize health risks for everyone.”
Mr. Quaranta acknowledged a possible increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks and months, but urged the public not to assume their source.
“I would caution everyone before jumping to conclusions that businesses are the cause of virus spread,” he said. “Places of employment may be some of the safest places to be in the coming months, given all the precautionary steps and regular improvements business leaders will take.
“Living arrangements and social patterns will have as much or more to do with increased rates of virus spread, than where people work or shop.”
Via a 60-minute conference call Tuesday morning, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President and CEO Patrick Harker, shared thoughts on the regional economy while evaluating Delaware as well. At the outset, Mr. Harker said they were his views, not that of theh Federal Reserve System.
During the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce event, Mr. Harker touched on the state’s educational and health care systems, tourism, the restaurant and hospitality industry, manufacturing and construction and agriculture, among others.
The recording of the call, written remarks, and reports are posted online at dscc.com/coronavirus.
In prepared remarks, Mr. Harker pointed to a 14.7 national unemployment rate and referenced nearly 100,000 Delawareans who filed for unemployment between March 21 and May 2. The low point was one week of 21,600 filings, compared to an average of 500 to 600 applications, pre-coronavirus.
While the job losses have largely included accommodations and food services, he said there’s also been a slight decline in manufacturing employment.
“It’s notable the economic slowdown, particularly on the consumer side, was observable even before states like Delaware took serious action to curtail the spread of the virus,” Mr. Harker said.
“That strongly suggests that the coronavirus itself, and not just government policies designed to mitigate it, are harming the economy.”
Spending cutbacks were ongoing before lockdowns and businesses shutdowns, he said. The economy will continue to underperform until the virus is under control, according to Mr. Harker.
“Airline bookings were collapsing and foot traffic into restaurants had already begun a steep decline, for instance,” he said. “Consumers were voting with their feet — or at least with their wallets.”
While manufacturing is expected to recover quickly “as Delaware and other states slowly and intelligently reopen,” Mr. Harker said travel and hospitality “may be in for a longer and more painful contraction,” especially in Kent and Sussex counties.
“Businesses may have enough experience teleconferencing instead of holding physical meetings that they may decide to cut back on corporate travel,” he said.
“Families may choose to avoid crowded spots like amusement parks, cruise ships, and packed Eastern Shore beaches. The knock-on effects to airlines, hotels and restaurants that cater to travelers could be severe and long lasting.”
The massive shift to working from home could signal bad trends for commercial real estate and other industries.
“Companies may find that working from home isn’t so bad after all and reduce physical office space,” he said. “There is also a strong possibility that many hotels and restaurants will never reopen.
“There will probably be retailers, big and small, that also shutter permanently.”