Georgia Chamber CEO Chris Clark: Act Now

Chris Clark

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

As leaders begin discussions about reopening the economy, we know that it does not signal an end to the pandemic nor an abatement of the financial crisis for which we all face an inevitably long and rather costly recession. It is instead a call for the business community to engage and the government to prepare and consider additional action at the local, state and federal levels.

The anticipated “return to normal” isn’t likely as fiscal and medical experts assure us that we will continue to face waves of outbreaks and, with it, consistent economic instability. To readily survive this so-called new normal and emerge from it to be a thriving economy once again, America – as a nation of leaders, businesses, workers and citizens - must act now on four priorities.

First, Congress must provide additional resources for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), grants and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Current funding levels are almost exhausted and smaller companies are struggling through the paperwork only to find that no funds remain. Congress needs to streamline the programs and eliminate burdensome regulations that are forcing some main street businesses to simply walk away from the process. The next package should provide additional grants for firms with fewer than 50 employees and minority owned companies.  Action should expand ‘forgivable expenses’ like equipment leases and investments while expediting fund transfers and unemployment benefits to struggling American employers and employees. Legislators should also work with the Federal Reserve to further backstop insurance, healthcare, banks and the real estate market as all are starting to see cracks in their foundations.

Second, Congress must begin earnest bipartisan work on a wider recovery bill that can move beyond saving jobs and jump-start a battered economy. Legislation focused on the New American Economy would spur the modernization of our workforce through new education models, legal immigration reform and upskilling programs. Efforts would open more foreign markets to fair U.S. trade for farmers, small business and manufacturers. President Trump’s plan for infrastructure investment should be fast tracked to include roads, airports, bridges, rail, ports and next generation infrastructure connectivity like 5G, cyber security and broadband. Congress should use this as an opportunity to address long-term issues like investment in research and development, housing and healthcare through block grants and public private partnerships. Taken together, these efforts would infuse capital, restore consumer confidence and build a stronger, future-focused economy.

Third, states and local governments must follow suit and begin to build recovery policies and strategies that meet the unique needs of their markets. Though city and county finances are significantly strained, elected leaders should look for ways to expand the tax base with a system built for the innovation economy. We should incentivize not just new job creation but retention with an eye for long-term economic prosperity and mobility, helping employees and families. This is the time to address income disparity, transportation, wellness, regulatory and education reform. States should protect healthcare and business from frivolous coronavirus-related lawsuits; freeze property taxes; delay fees; pass universal licensing; update zoning laws; incentivize middle- and low-income housing construction; and improve entrepreneur ecosystems.  Rural communities, though sooner to reopen, will still be saddled with systemic issues that will necessitate further and longer stimulus activities. We must not forget our small hometowns as we rush into a new normal.

Finally, American businesses can survive economic headwinds if their ship is strong and stable. Every business should develop a recovery business plan and to think of life without emergency loans while still operating in an emergency environment.  The U.S. economy will rebound over time, but the rolling reopening will look different for different companies in different regions, producing uneven economic growth across the nation. Businesses should be prepared for an economy that starts-and-stops several times over the next two years. That means developing disruptive operational models that imbeds CDC guidelines and best practices to protect customers, clients, suppliers and employees for the long term.  It means investing in new technologies, new delivery partnerships, buying local, identifying new markets, stronger community engagement, marketing, upskilling and right-sizing.  It means being bold and caring while seeking new revenue.

Americans have an incredible ability to overcome great obstacles. Our faith and grounding have instilled in us the work ethic to rebuild time and again. Just as America rebounded after the 1958 flu, after the 1970 oil crisis, after 9/11 and then the great recession, we too will overcome this crisis stronger, more innovative, and smarter if we continue to do our part and work together. This is not the time for partisanship but of statesmanship. This is not the time for self but for service. Act now to preserve the lives of our family and friends. Act now to preserve our economy and our republic.