Across the country and in the region, states are cautiously reopening themselves for businesses as the coronavirus curve bends.
The time has now come for New Jersey to do the same.
This is not to dismiss the terrible loss of life brought on by the pandemic, or to ignore those who still have reservations about reopening the state. In fact, we believe reopening New Jersey safely will require a careful and methodical approach, specific to certain sectors, customer bases, and vendors, in order to be successful.
That’s why NJBIA and the New Jersey Business Coalition, which includes 80 business and nonprofit groups, have already provided Governor Murphy and our legislative leadership detailed recommendations for reopening New Jersey businesses.
It is our hope that state leaders incorporate this framework into a responsible roadmap forward that is driven by health data and remains focused on business recovery.
Specifically, the coalition has proposed a four-prong approach between the business community and state, county and local governments that focuses on vertical industry sectors and geographic regions. We recognize that a one-size-fits-all approach will not be appropriate given the potential for coronavirus hotspots and needed healthcare capacity.
We do believe industries and regions that can quickly stimulate the economy and put more people back to work safely should be prioritized during the reopening process. There also must be recognition that regions such as the Jersey Shore, which drives $5 billion in state and local tax revenue annually and provides nearly 10% of all jobs in the state, deserve special consideration.
We must also be mindful that businesses which have been shuttered for weeks will incur new operational expenses before there are revenues to support them. Most will have new costs, such as personal protective equipment for workers and the expense of retrofitting workplaces to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Businesses will need access to “restart funds” for their reopening phase.
Federal CARES Act appropriations to New Jersey can be used by the state for necessary expenditures related to the COVID-19 response. Therefore, we strongly recommend a portion be directed to the Economic Development Authority to provide direct relief to small businesses to help them recover from the shutdown and reopen operations in a safe and responsible manner.
The good news is most businesses believe they are ready. NJBIA and other business groups recently asked its members how a soft reopening might affect their business models and over 70% told us they could operate safely under the social distancing guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop the spread of COVID-19 illnesses.
However, 65% said they would need to have at least half their workforce on site in order to operate.
We need to start the process to get that to point. In New Jersey, 1.2 million people — 26% of our workforce — have filed for unemployment. Thousands of businesses were forced to close when the pandemic hit, and billions of dollars in state tax revenues have been lost since March.
The recommendations for New Jersey’s recovery and reinvention submitted to our policymakers, including all best practice documents specific to each industry, can be found under the Recovery tab of NJBIA’s website. They are there to inform a process that needs to start immediately, which accounts for New Jersey’s physical and economic health.
All of this takes planning, and the planning must start now. If we do not take these steps to reopen soon, we will have much less to reopen later.