ROCHESTER — Nobody knows for certain when businesses will reopen, but former Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy advises they start preparing.
“If I were to offer suggestions to any business, any enterprise which is deemed non-essential and is not working right now, I would work on having a plan in place when that decision day comes, be it two weeks, four weeks, six weeks,” he said Monday at a virtual press conference.
“I can’t speak to (the potential reopening date), but areas that we constantly talk about are face masks, hand hygiene, disinfectant, and social distancing,” he continued. “ ... My sense is always be proactive. Don’t wait.”
Employee and customer safety — and how they’re enacted — are paramount, he said.
Duffy was appointed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to coordinate the Finger Lakes region’s economic reopening. He’s been meeting with health, business and government officials from across an area including Genesee, Orleans, Wyoming and Livingston counties.
It’s no easy issue, involving a complex mix of health and business considerations. Every day of closure costs businesses and governments alike.
“We’re encouraged that the governor has at least identified two regions — the Finger Lakes and Western New York — that he wants specific advice on,” Duffy said. “It’s my responsibility, I feel, to move as quickly as I can, to listen and get information back to him so we don’t have any delays.”
Business owners are frustrated and want to open soon, Duffy said. But they also want to reopen safely.
“If they own a business, they want to get up and running,” said Duffy, who also serves as president of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. “The governor wants that too. Keep in mind that every day a business is closed, there’s no sales tax revenues going to the state or the county localities. There’s a constant loss of revenues for everybody.”
Duffy said he’s gathering as much information as he can, and getting it to Cuomo’s office and state officials as quickly as possible.
He described a situation of tough financial realities for everybody involved, with state budget projections showing a looming hole exceeding $13 billion.
“That just grows with every day, week and month of this situation,” Duffy said. “We’re all in uncharted waters. We’re all in an area where we’re not sure of what we can do. It really echoes the pain business owners are feeling, whether you’re a small mom-and-pop business, a major corporation, or a bank. Everybody is feeling this pain.”
He said he believes they’re taking commonsense steps in trying to navigate the circumstances.
Duffy said he understands business owners’ frustration and information is needed quickly so a reopening decision could likewise arrive as soon as possible. He’s asking for people and businesses to hang on, noting that the dining room situation for restaurants is still something that needs to be resolved.
“One of the things I’m suggesting to people is that whatever the governor decides in terms of reopening strategy, I think every company should look at continuing as best as they can, remote working,” he said.
Even as businesses reopen, reducing the proximity and infection rate will continue to be helpful during the reopening, Duffy said.
He said Cuomo alone will make the decision when to reopen. Although the number of deaths is lower, he said, it’s still way too high.
“This is tragic, some of the things we’re hearing every day,” Duffy said. “We can’t reopen too soon ... People who are frustrated, we get it. But this virus knows no boundaries.”
Duffy said he hears a lot from owners and employees who have their own concerns about safety and going back to work. Liability remains another unanswered question which is spurring concerns on both sides.
He said allowing states to go bankrupt defies common sense, because hospitals, schools and everything in general would be impacted. But he also advised not to expect bailouts, saying the state simply doesn’t have the money.
“Business as usual is not going to be the order of the day going forward,” Duffy said. “We’re all in this. We’re all going to feel the pain. The more we collaborate, come together and not point fingers or think we’re going to get a bailout, the more successful we’re going to be in what we’re doing.”
President Scott Gardner of the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism was among the economic officials who had attended a virtual meeting with Duffy earlier that morning. He said they were able to express concerns from area business owners about reopening — hopefully soon.
“I think it’s good that the state is reaching out to the communities to various communities or industries or sectors, to listen to their thoughts and about how and when we can reopen, and restart the state economy from our perspective,” he said.
Reopening the county’s economy is vital, he said, and discussions have included what changes businesses are going to observe, including from a hygienic and protection perspective.
“It’s going to take time for people to start to emerge and start to do things,” Gardner said “It isn’t going to be a switch. “I don’t want to say things are going to be forever changed, but things are going to be different for awhile. But we have to start to emerge as soon as possible so we can see hope and an end in sight.”
Businesses and manufacturers likewise need to be ready to ramp up their operations again — not necessarily an easy process, which can involve inventory, labor and similar factors.
It even involves defining what low-risk manufacture is.
“We’re very pleased this conversation has started and we want to accelerate it as much as possible, understanding there are big issues at stake, and safety and health, and economic safety and health, all wrapped up together.”