Area Businesses Are Preparing For A New Normal
Local businesses including manufacturers, construction companies and retail providers are preparing to get back to work today as Western New York begins the first part of a phased reopening plan to lift some coronavirus restrictions.
A number of different state and local resources and initiatives have been put in place to help business owners and their employees stay safe during the economic restart. The Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency has spent the last several weeks working with area businesses on a variety of programs, including a capital loan fund and reopening safety templates.
“Obviously our businesses are really suffering and I think we’ve had such a low incidence of cases and deaths that I think it makes sense under the right guidance, which the state has given us, to begin this reopening,” IDA CEO Mark Geise said. “We’ll get them open, everyone has to follow these guidelines and we’ll make sure that we’re tracking to make sure that we’re not seeing any spikes or anything.”
Prior to the announcement that Phase One would begin on Tuesday, Geise and his staff had helped to keep local businesses informed on how to safely reopen. “We just fielded a million phone calls,” Geise said. “We were getting phone calls from every angle that you can imagine. People asking questions about what is going on, when do we expect to open, what is going to be required?”
In an effort to help create safe business plans for companies preparing to reopen, the IDA worked with the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce to create safety templates with instructions and suggestions on how to operate within public health guidelines from the Centers For Disease Control.
“I worked really closely with the chamber on doing these templates by sector. We didn’t really know when the state was going to open up or if they were even going to provide guidance. We developed these templates by sector and got those out to the businesses,” Geise said. New York state is now requiring businesses to create their own business plans or to fill out a standard template safety plan, which covers employee safety protocols and workplace health initiatives.
“The ones that we did were very similar to what the state actually came up with. We had provided very similar templates. Physical space, personal space, the types of (personal protective equipment) they should have, cleanliness, cleaning, disinfecting, that kind of stuff,” Geise said. “I sent out an email (Monday) morning just reminding all of the manufacturing businesses that they needed to fill out these templates and do these electronic signatures.”
Business owners are required to electronically sign state safety templates in order to comply with reopening guidelines. The IDA’s loan program was designed to get money into the hands of businesses and their employees during the shutdown, and has seen a positive response during a faster-than-expected rollout.
“We took $250,000 and we created a brand new $10,000 working capital loans for businesses,” Geiss said. “We created it and got it operating within a week and then we had lent out to 25 different businesses these $10,000 dollar loans. Really relaxed the collateral and made it really simple, it was like a two-page application. We got the money in their hands really quick. Businesses were really grateful for that. We lent it all out within I think four weeks of starting the program.”
Joining the IDA’s efforts to guide local businesses back to a new normal has been Jamestown Community College. “We teamed up with Jamestown Community College. They are providing technical assistance for any business that wanted some help to try and figure out what they should do to try and protect their employees and their customers,” Geiss said. “JCC has been providing that, spending a couple of hours on the phone with them, looking at their floor plans, and providing them feedback on what they should do. That has been really successful.” With businesses now facing strict safety and sanitation protocols, the IDA has also instituted a matched grant program for personal protective equipment purchases. Masks, cleaners, barriers and other items needed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 can now have their costs offset.
Employees returning to work can expect a new normal, with increased precautions and safety measures put in place through state safety templates and guidelines. Monofrax of Falconer, a manufacturer of ceramics used in glass making furnaces, was not required to close its doors during the shutdown. Over the past several weeks, employees have adjusted to new safety measures that will be required during the Phase One reopening.
“The changes that are being asked of companies, we’ve already been doing them for weeks,” said Bill Andrews, CEO and president of Monofrax. “We’ve had masks for everybody, we’ve used disinfectants, we wipe down all the equipment in all of the common areas every day after every shift. Anywhere that we’ve had any concern we’ve just quarantined those people per the CDC regulations. We have some medical grade air filters that we have coming in, they’ll kill any bacteria that is in the air, they’ll kill any viruses in the air. We have a compressed air sprayer that can spray down all the areas, all the common areas, with a medical-grade disinfectant. We have hand-washing stations, we have all those things in place.”
Andrews was optimistic that many businesses now slated to reopen have been preparing for the past month, thanks to information provided from local officials and state agencies.
“I don’t know that it will be a big departure for them, because it sounds like a lot of them have been preparing for this,” Andrews said. “The templates have helped, the state has given really good guidelines on what they expect. So a lot of these companies are going in with their eyes open, they are going in prepared. Even right from the beginning, before New York State Pause was in place, there was a lot being done to promote washing hands more and social distancing and all of that. So I think these companies are probably better-positioned to open now than they were a month ago because there is so much more information out there.”
Andrews has been involved in conference calls with local municipal leaders during the shutdown, including County Executive PJ Wendel, state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown.
“We’ve been involved with them right from day one. We’ve utilized the templates they’ve given us early on. We’ve modified them a lot because we’ve gone beyond just the basic stuff,” Andrews said.