Hawaii’s businesses join the worldwide call to adhere to social distancing guidelines and take every preventative measure to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Our geographic isolation, which in so many instances works against us as a place to do business, will not spare us from the devastating impacts of this virus.
On behalf of the business community, mahalo to those on the front lines in the health-care industry who are saving lives. We also appreciate essential supply-chain businesses and workers who are working to ensure Hawaii continues to obtain the products and services needed to fight this unprecedented war, and our businesses who have stepped up to provide aid and donations. Words cannot express the appreciation we have for their work to save our families and the people of Hawaii. This collaborative and connected spirit will help us defeat this pandemic.
Coronavirus is not only impacting the health of our people. It is greatly impacting the livelihood of our families as many face sudden layoffs, furloughs and a reduction in benefits, among other adversities.
This pandemic has also become an economic virus with far-reaching impacts and ripple effects, devastating the overall health of our economy. In tandem with mitigating the health and safety impacts of this virus, we must pursue economic relief.
We need to address immediate relief needs during the worse of the pandemic, the transition phase as the economy recovers, and the long-term economic strategy needed for Hawaii to fully recover. These discussions must start now and a plan for action on all of these measure needs to be prioritized and developed.
The Chamber is fielding weekly surveys in partnership with our neighbor island chambers and other partners to gauge the status and needs of the business community before and during stay-at-home measures, and will continue these surveys as long as the Chamber believes there is a benefit to members.
In our initial survey, fielded in mid-March, more than 85% of respondents anticipated an economic downturn. Our second survey was fielded immediately following the stay-at-home restriction: 50% of businesses surveyed had already closed their doors, while the remaining 50% were telecommuting from home or operating with limited hours.
We also surveyed what government action was needed to help businesses during this time. At the top of the list was suspension of the GET or other tax payments and fees, followed by mortgage and rental relief, and no or low-interest loans.
These and many other proposals have been sent to the state administration for action via two letters and a meeting. We ensured that our leaders understand the plight of local businesses who cannot hold on for federal relief and are on the brink of shutting down.
Many businesses are doing their best to keep employees on payroll to the best extent possible, maintaining health insurance for those who have been furloughed, reducing hours versus laying employees off, among other actions. But the clock is ticking and the urgency level has elevated to the “red” zone. Businesses are no longer getting by week-by-week, but day-by-day or, for some, even hour-by-hour.
According to our first survey three weeks ago, at least 20% of the small businesses surveyed said they are losing thousands of dollars every day.
The Chamber is “all hands on deck” to help our business community through this difficult time. We are providing resources and webinars on relief measures, serving on national and state task forces to ensure that the voice of business is heard, connecting students with online learning opportunities, soliciting businesses for needed donations, and more.
Thanks to the work of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, the CARES Act will provide billions in relief for Hawaii’s small businesses.
However, our state administration and counties need to address the urgent needs of our business community. Businesses and government are interdependent and need to work together to continue to support the people of Hawaii.
The right actions now will ensure that when we do defeat the coronavirus, doors will reopen for Hawaii businesses, workers can return to their jobs and our economy will get back on track toward a more resilient and stronger economy than ever before.
Sherry Menor-McNamara is CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii.