Small biz “barely hanging on”

Small biz “barely hanging on”
As Washington state officials explore more industries that may be able to reopen, some small business advocates say they can safely reopen their doors today. Photo: freepik.com

Days after reopening the construction industry, Governor Jay Inslee announced that some outdoor recreation on state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land will also reopen starting next week, as well as the regular hunting and fishing seasons on Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) land.

Although Inslee stressed at an April 27 press   that the decision “is not a return to normal” and it will be a gradual process toward restarting the rest of the economy, some business advocates insist that other employers can safely reopen their doors right now.

“Main Street small business(es) have been hit harder than any other group,” National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) State Director Patrick Connor said. “A number of them are just barely hanging on.”

He added that the prolonged shutdown has pushed many small businesses “to the point where they may not recover.”

As of April 24, the state Department of Commerce has received more than 26,000 applications for $10,000 grants available to small businesses. The Employment Security Office has now received 650,00 unemployment claims and paid out $1.4 billion since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Earlier this month Inslee signed a pact with California and Oregon calling for a regional approach to reopening their economies. Since, the states of Nevada and Colorado have joined the pact. A similar strategy has been employed by business organizations such as the Association of Washington Business (AWB) and the Washington Roundtable, which are part of a coalition of employers also representing businesses in California and Oregon. In an April 27 joint letter to the governors of Washington, California and Oregon, the business coalition offered recommendations that included:

  • Allowing business leaders to provide input on how to address worker compensation and liability issues;
  • Ensuring policy is clear regarding industry safety and sanitation rules; and
  • Permitting employers to reopen “as soon as reasonable safety standards can be met.”

During an April 24 webinar, state Department of Commerce Deputy Director Chris Green said “we are very much intentional about how this process can be undertaken specifically with worker safety in mind, and the safety of Washingtonians in mind. That said, of course we want to see how this can happen as fast as possible.”

Inslee said at the April 27 press conference that “going forward we are going to be looking at several more industries” to reopen, though he added “the date they can open depends on multiple degrees of metrics.” During an April 28 interview with TVW, he said one of the next industries to reopen could be retail “with great social distancing.”

But Connor says he believes the restart process is already taking too long and the state has kept business doors closed unnecessarily. He added that some retail stores have experienced burglaries or graffiti on their unoccupied buildings.

“A number of them said they were already following (the safety guidelines) at the offset, to enhance hygiene and sanitation requirements,” Connor said. “(They were) still told to shut down.”

In an April 17 letter to Inslee, Connor requested that retailers be allowed to reopen as “essential,” which includes stores that sell the following items:

  • Cleaning supplies
  • Clothing
  • Computer supplies
  • Exercise equipment
  • Office supplies and equipment
  • Security devices

Connor said that the policy regarding “essential activity” favors larger retail stores selling food and beverages by allowing them to stay open, while many specialty or small retailers are deemed “nonessential.”

“(It’s) insult to injury to be told first you have to close, but to also then watch as a big box competitor is able to stay in business,” he said. “They are wondering how a business could be safe with 10,000 people coming through the doors than for a small retail outfit to have 10 people come in during a given day.”

Inslee is expected to give an update on April 29.

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