Louisiana business community works on framework for economy re-opening

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) – As the number of COVID cases slows down in Louisiana, the business community ramps up. Leaders from across the state say they’re working together to come up with a plan to safely re-open the economy after a never-before-seen shutdown.

“We are teetering on the edge of recovery,” St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce President Lacey Osborne said.

The St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce is one of 36 organizations on board with a proposed framework for economic recovery.

“This one document that came from LABI, I believe, has given hope where hope may have been questionable before,” Osborne said.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry paired up with the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce to create the “Safe at Work” proposal. Though the Executive Summary stresses it is a working document, meant to act as a catalyst for discussion, it does offer an outline for the gradual reopening of the economy.

Also included are necessary considerations, like childcare and legal protections.

“There is fear on both sides of what happens if somebody goes to work and gets sick. Businesses are saying, ‘If we abide by all of the propagated regulations, we want to know we are not going to be legally liable,’” Greater New Orleans, Inc. President Michael Hecht said.

Hecht says the return to work guidelines are largely common sense. He says what’s most important is maintaining a balance between health and the economy to prevent a second surge.

“It’s a job of the healthcare system to save lives, but it’s the job of the economy to give us what we need to live,” Hecht said.

“Our businesses are very anxious to get back to work and very anxious and I say anxious but also just worried about the economy and worried about their employees,” Jefferson Chamber of Commerce President Todd Murphy said.

Chamber of Commerce leaders say a large portion of those struggling are small business owners and their employees. Murphy says 65-percent of Jefferson’s chamber membership are business owners with fewer than 10 employees. In St. Tammany Parish, Osborne says it’s closer to 85-percent.

“I started off tutoring just on my own but, once you take on employees and they’re kind of dependent on you to pay their bills, it’s very hard to do that and to tell them we don’t have any, I don’t have any work for you,” small business owner Jason Tucker said.

Tucker operates a tutoring business out of Chalmette, in St. Bernard Parish, with three employees he can no longer afford to pay.

“Most of our clients did not want to do online sessions so, my employees, unfortunately, I had to let go,” Tucker explained. “We dropped the price significantly when we went online but a lot of them pulled out, just saying they don’t have any real schoolwork to be doing.”

Tucker tells Fox 8 he was planning to rely on the federally funded Paycheck Protection Program.

“I was in the application process for that and now they’re out of funding,” Tucker said.

Hecht notes this liquidity is solely meant as a temporary fix.

“You can tell America is ready to get back to work. There is an urge and some of that is we’re just tired of trying to home school our children. But I think it’s also people sense that while the government has multi-trillion dollars coming out of it, ultimately it’s not going to be enough. The economy has to begin to work on its own and so, we’ve got a practical, financial and emotional reason to want to get back to work as quickly and safely as possible,” Hecht said.

Tucker hopes to build up his online business enough to bring back his employees but, in the long run, he’s confident his business will be fine.

“I see there’s going to be an even bigger need for tutoring going forward,” said Tucker. “I think there’s hope for businesses, as long as they’re willing to be creative in how they’re adapting to it, to the situation. I think business is really a lot about adapting. So, the market changes and this market change happened a lot quicker than other ones…but I think being able to adapt is going to be the key for the small businesses out there.”

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