Mercer Chamber asks state to reconsider guidelines

Jennifer Marsh
Herald Staff
[email protected]

Amid the multi-phased reopening campaign lead by Governor Andy Beshear, many businesses are unsure of the guidelines, according to the Mercer Chamber of Commerce.

“The Mercer Chamber of Commerce Board met via Zoom to discuss the State’s COVID-19 reopening recommendations,” said Jill Cutler, executive director of the chamber.  “We have been listening to our membership and community members who have expressed concerns on timelines and complexity of the mandated requirements.”

The chamber has been operating throughout the COVID-19 crisis offering information, guidelines and connections for businesses in need.

“We as a chamber are fully committed to the health and safety of our community and in helping our members meet the State’s requirements,” said Cutler. “We are actively working with the Kentucky Chamber to do so. However, we respectfully need the government to consider offering more flexibility to opening business more quickly in a safe and controlled manner, while following the fundamentals provided under “The Healthy At Work Plan.”

Cutler said the chamber will be actively working with officials to request a faster timeline while fully meeting the healthy at work guidelines. 

“As businesses open they would still have to meet requirements for social distancing, use of PPE, monitoring employee health, use of hand sanitizer, providing wash stations, having more frequent facility cleanings and restricting common areas,” said Cutler.  “We have the fundamental framework, so let businesses open up more quickly, on their timeline, while still following the government guidelines.”

Cutler said the official statement to the state chamber includes a request for government protection for businesses from litigation if guidelines are followed.

Some businesses have expressed concern with the ambiguity of the guidelines, specfically the encouragement of masks with customers. It is not a requirement just a suggestion leaving the individual business to decide what to enforce.

The problem is that some customers won’t want a mask and others will, leaving the business owner in a no-win situation in which one customer will be alienated. 

Face masks are only an encouragement as stated in the state guidelines, businesses need protection from litagation from customers and employees if they encourage but do not force. 

 “The chamber will continue to advocate for small businesses.  We also will be promoting our community to patronize our restaurants and businesses as quickly as possible,” said Cutler. “Community support will be critical to their long term viability as businesses re-open while protecting our public health and safety.”

Mark Stivers, a Consultant, Business Broker and Restaurant/Retail analyst recently published a 2020 analysis for the reopening climate in Kentucky.

In Stivers’ report, he states reopening will not mean reverting back to the way things were but a new normal as well as many buisnesses not reopening.

“Many businesses that closed in March/April will not reopen for differing reasons,” said Stivers. “Some will not have the balance sheet and reserves to make it. For others the prospect of reopening under new guidelines and restrictions will not be appealing.”

Stivers addresses several issues facing businesses including determing the value of thier buisness.

“Recent earnings history will be less relevant and 2020 financial performance will have a lot of noise in the numbers,” said Stivers.  “It may be 2022 before a business will have a trailing 12 months of clean, predictable earnings history in the “new normal environment “ .   New and creative approaches to valuation and deal structures will be required.”

In addition to basic financials of business, Stivers predicts customers will be differnt.

“Consumer behaviors will change and aspects of the legal and regulatory environment will change,” said Stivers. “The underlying cost structures of some businesses will change which will necessitate business model adjustments.”

The report states the impact on  resturants has been enormous.

“It will likely result in the biggest destruction of  restaurant business value in history,” said Stivers. “However, on the other side of this crisis there will be enormous opportunities.”

Stivers called the imact on retail a reckoning, saying e-commerce and social media presence are now a crucial survival method.

“Retail has been changing and evolving for many years,” said Stivers. “The COVID-19 crisis will accelerate a retail reckoning and a new way of shopping will be needed.”

The Mercer Chamber of Commerce is offering an online shopping option to businesses in Mercer County through thier website.

Any business can email a link to their online purchasing page that will be posted on the website free of charge.

For businesses without access to an online purchasing system, the chamber is offering a free gift card online service.

For more information call the chamber at 734-2365 or visit their website at www.mercerchamber.com.

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