On Monday we joined Utah Governor Gary Herbert, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, the Salt Lake Chamber, and state and local leaders for a press conference. A link to the press conference can be found here, and we have transcribed the meeting with highlighted key points to share information and get feedback as quickly as possible. Comment here with your questions, and as always, we’re here to help.
Derek Miller, President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance
Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, and thank you for joining this press conference. I’m Derek Miller the President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance and also a member of the Governor’s COVID-19 Task Force. It’s an honor to stand here this morning with Governor Gary Herbert our capital city Mayor Erin Mendenhall and other state local and business leaders joining us. Over the past several days, we have heard from medical experts about best practices for the prevention and mitigation of the coronavirus we’ve all become accustomed to terms like ‘slow the spread’, ‘flatten the curve’ and ‘social distancing’.
I want to emphasize that individuals’ health and well-being has been and will always be the priority of the COVID-19 Task Force. That said, we must also recognize the potential economic impact of this pandemic. And we must be equally vigilant in our efforts to protect the health and well-being of our economy. While we remain hopeful that the number of cases and the rates of contracting the virus will remain low in Utah, the economic impacts will be felt by everyone. In fact, those impacts are already being felt in areas such as the tourism and hospitality industries, hotels, restaurants, and some retail stores. What we must begin to think about, prepare for, and mitigate is the breadth, depth, and duration of the economic impact. The Chamber supports Governor Herbert’s recommendations and believes that the guidelines he has given are necessary to slow the spread and flatten the curve of the virus.
It is prudent to enact preventative measures NOW to take our proverbial medicine today to ensure economic health tomorrow. As I said, we have heard a lot over the past several days about keeping individuals healthy. Those same practices apply to businesses as well. Social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, implementing plans for remote working, and encouraging employees through flexible leave policies to stay at home at the first sign of illness. Additionally, the best hygiene practices that we employ a home must be followed in our places of work. Disinfecting highly trafficked areas, tables, communal areas like kitchens and restrooms and point-of-sale locations as well as refraining from shaking hands and sharing food. These business practices for slowing the spread and flattening the curve have been compiled at the Salt Lake Chamber website slchamber.com/coronavirus. This website is also linked to the state’s website. I also want to announce that beginning today we are adding a new section to the chamber website with resources for businesses to overcome the economic impact. They may be experiencing. For example, the federal government announced over the weekend that it will help infuse capital into the system to assist businesses large and small. And we will provide additional information about how businesses can access this capital as it becomes available. As we all know 90% of Utah businesses are small businesses and we will continue to monitor all levels of government to provide access to the resources these small businesses need such as the forthcoming congressional legislation. We will also work with local and state governments to communicate these available resources. For example, we will hear today about State resources through the Department of Workforce Services for those who are looking for work. We’ll also hear today from employers who are already implementing plans to stay open for business in the current environment. We thank them for being here today.
In closing Our message is that local, state and business leaders are standing together. And together we will prevail as our business community implements the counsel and best practices that you heard this morning, being flexible with telecommuting, sick leave, and being vigilant in hygiene in the workplace combined with forthcoming government assistance programs that you heard about today, we will not only slow the spread of this illness but we also protect our long-term economic health. A dozen years ago during the Great Recession, Utah set a goal to create 100,000 jobs in 1,000 days and working together with focus we accomplished that goal ahead of schedule. Utah was able to come out of the recession faster and stronger than anywhere else because Utah’s economic fundamentals were strong and those economic fundamentals remain strong today as we face a new challenge to protect the jobs that have been created over the last decade. Stated another way, the focus of the economic response task force will be to protect 100,000 jobs over the days ahead.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert
I appreciate the opportunity to be here with all of you today. As Derek has mentioned the #1 issue out there for the state and for the role of government is in fact to protect the health and welfare of the people that we represent here in this great state of Utah.
We’re doing it in collaboration with a nationwide effort. I just got off of off of a conference call with the President and the Vice President and talking about what’s being done and the resources being made available to States. More about that probably later even today. Along with being concerned about the health and welfare of the people of Utah, certainly something that we need to be talking about has been mentioned kind of in passing by Derek is the health of our economy.
These are unprecedented times and they’re calling for unprecedented measures in order for us to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus. We want people to feel comfortable and understand that things are going to get better. We’re going through a challenging time here and it is going to impact and disrupt our lives, individually and as families and really every aspect of what we do. At least for a period of time until we can get control this Coronavirus. I want everybody to know that we at the State certainly and I know that the local levels also do not take these issues lightly. We’re trying to analyze the best science, the best medical advice possible to make sure that we can, in fact, do what is necessary to slow down the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19 and the adage is really an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We need to do everything we can to get ahead of this and slow it down and if we do so, again, it will be certainly better for us in the long term. So sometimes the short-term hard things to do now will give us better long-term outcome. You can see us here today we’re practicing social distancing. That’s going to be kind of part of the vernacular — as do we have social distancing, as we gather together, to make sure that we are in fact eliminating the possibility of sharing the virus. If we happen to have it or catch it from somebody who happens to have it. We are hoping the people self implement directions. If you’re sick, don’t go to work. I know some have not been able to be tested and that’s an issue we’re working on and testing now. That came out of the conference with the President. Nationally, we’re going to have a million tests done this week and 2 million the next week, and 5 million the week as we’re ramping up with getting more testing kits and more availability.
Here in Utah we’ve been working with the ARUP at the University of Utah to do drive up testing. We have three areas of drive-up window testing now. They’re available and two more will be on board here today and tomorrow. So testing I know is something that we’d like to have have more of and we’re working to make sure that that’s taking precedent for our issues on the health and welfare of the people. But regarding the health of our economy, today I’m announcing. I’ve created an Economic Response Task Force which will work in conjunction along with our COVID-19 Task Force that the Lieutenant Governor is leading. I’ve asked Derek Miller to work on this and head up of our Economic Development efforts here in the Salt Lake Valley, throughout the State, and work with other Chambers of Commerce. We already have online what is called the Governor’s Economic Council made up of members of the private sector out there, which has always been working to help us become economically viable and grow our economy and we’ve done it better than any state in America.
Now again, we have a unique time and we need to see what we can do to protect and mitigate against significant economic downturn. This task force will help us to in fact determine what we should be doing to help minimize the negative impact of the Coronavirus. Already we have on there isTeresa Foxley from EDCUtah, Natalie Gochnour from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, and John Pierpont who’s the Director of our Workforce Services. So that will be the nucleus. We’re going to add people to that from the private sector and others to make sure this task force will have their first emergency meeting at nine o’clock in the morning to get together and review where we’re at and where we want to go and how we’re going to get there. A list of the full committee membership will be supplied as we get it prepared and hopefully we’ll have that done by today.
Again in talking about social distancing, we know that that’s awkward. It’s not what se’re accustomed to, but it’s something that we need. Implement in our lives today – avoiding mass gatherings and avoid those are places where we will get together and maybe either spread or catch the Coronavirus from somebody else. We’re determined as a State to take whatever precautions are necessary in advance. That’s where it has the potential to do the most good.
We really don’t know the economic impacts of the Coronavirus. It’s somewhat speculation, but certainly as we are seeing restrictions on travel taking place on an International level. The hospitality industry is certainly being impacted and how we handle that we will be working closely with the Restaurant Association others in that regard.
Let me just finish up by saying if in fact you have lost your job because of this situation, or your hours have been reduced, there is help available through the Department of Workforce Services. They are here to help. Workforce Services are able to help mitigate. The resources that are available you can find them at jobs.utah.gov. We encourage anyone needing assistance with Job searches. Job training, employment insurance or financial assistance to visit that site.
If you need unemployment benefits again, you find that at jobs.utah.gov or you can down also download the Utah jobs mobile app or call 801-526-WORK (9675). They will give you some information from a live body. We have Online resources that you can use as much as possible. There are 31 employment centers around the state again. Again we’re trying to avoid mass gatherings, but they are available to you. You can make arrangements if you need to have an in person. Meeting I can help that to take place.
If you’re an employer and you need to temporarily suspend operations due to COVID-19, the Department of Workforce Services office offers Rapid Response Workshops designed to provide immediate aid to those companies that need help and the workers that they can handle even on site work site closings. Our specialist with the Department of Workforce Services this task force is going to help us address the economic aspects of this COVID-19 pandemic.
I do believe that together that we can certainly flatten out the curve and together. We can ensure that we can weather this pandemic. Let me just close by saying this. Government has a role to play. We’re going to make sure the government plays its role effectively and does everything possible to protect the health safety and welfare of the people of Utah. We’re going to work with this task force to see what we can do to help with economic mitigation so that we don’t have as big of a downturn as maybe as potentially out there. We want to make sure that we get in front of that.
But I want to remind everybody government can’t do it all. We cannot anticipate every scenario out there that has taken place with mass gatherings — where he should go where he shouldn’t go. We want people to use their own good common sense. If you need to get some advice and counsel providing people to call. If you feel like you’re sick, please stay home. Even if you don’t have COVID-19 — if you feel like you’re coughing, runny nose, maybe the beginnings of a cold still don’t go out. We need to be extra cautious now to not spread germs and to make sure that we keep ourselves healthy. We would hope the people will not again have a run on the grocery stores. Everybody ought to feel some confidence that the supply streams are open and available. The grocery stores are going to continue to be open. You can get your supplies there on a weekly basis. So with that again, I think we’re in a good shape as far as this can we can be at this time, but we need to have the collaboration and cooperation of everybody.
This is really an all-hands-on-deck, everybody working together. There’s no State better prepared for this kind of an emergency then Utah, we do care about our neighbors. Let’s look for those who are most vulnerable in our neighborhoods and extend a helping hand. If they need to have groceries delivered to their home and can’t get out. Let’s help do that. Let’s be a good neighbor. Together we’ll get through this situation.
Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall
There are no school buses on the streets. We’re standing a good distance apart. You look out toward our western sky and you don’t see as many planes as you normally would on a Monday morning. Many of our offices are empty, but I don’t think we’ve ever worked this closely and collaboratively as a community as we are right now. Thank you governor for leading us in that regard.
These are times that are certainly going to test our resolve as a community and the character of who we are as a people of Utah. The time for government and the business community to act in unison is now. Our goal as we keep saying is to slow the growth curve of COVID-19, to minimize the long-term impact. We know we can decrease its impact of the public health crisis at-hand by taking care of each other, taking care of ourselves, and acting proactively not reactively to the situation.
We will do everything in our power as a City to ensure the stability of our local economy for the long term, which means making sacrifices today. We must take necessary steps to prevent the spread of this virus any further. These will not be easy steps. In fact, this pandemic already has and will continue to have a negative impact on our local community. We are fluidly bracing for an impact whose force we can partially determine. If we work together now, we will be better off in the long run. If we are criticized for overreacting, I’m prepared to face that rather than saying we didn’t act soon enough. Our business Community is prepared to work together to collaborate and innovate as it always does and I have one message. We are here for you.
We have been devastated as a city to hear about our business interruption that’s happening in our community in the very personal impacts on our residents. Business drives our local economy and particularly small business are crucial to our vibrancy as a city. More than 90% of the 17,000 licensed businesses in Salt Lake City alone are small businesses.
We want to make sure that they have every opportunity to withstand any interruption in the coming weeks. Salt Lake City’s Economic Development team put together a survey just last week asking local business owners about the impact – what they’re experiencing and what their concerns are. I’m very appreciative of the support in responding to that survey. And we ask you to keep giving us this information as the situation evolves.
If you haven’t already taken the survey, please go to the Salt Lake City Economic Development website and do so today. Based on the results we have received through this weekend, we know that 76% of businesses that responded have seen a decrease in revenue more than 10%. It’s also important information for us and it’s disheartening at this time, but we need the information to be able to adapt and respond. We also know that many companies are currently developing or have already implemented remote or teleworking policies as well as leave policies for these types of situations. We of course encourage all businesses who are able to do so to do it now, but also for any future crisis has this is a practice for us in many ways of the world that we live in today.
We know that the creative class has been hit hard with the closure of art galleries, entertainment venues, and cultural centers. Artists will see significant economic impacts as well during this crisis. I asked landlords and property owners to be conscientious of your tenants. Please exercise flexibility as you can understanding with as much financial patience with regard to rent payments in the coming weeks ahead. Now is the time for us to think like a community so that we can be stronger sooner as the virus subsides. Please be compassionate as you consider the impacts of this crisis on your tenants. Even if they’re not sick they may be forced to take pay cuts because of school closures or business furloughs or even to care for their loved ones. While we work to contribute our city resources to expand rental assistance programs available, please if you can hang in there with your tenants who are struggling.
Our friends in Summit County have already made the difficult decision to close ski resorts restaurants, bars, gyms, and entertainment venues for 30 days and we will work hourly with our County and State Partners to determine what steps should come next for Salt Lake City.
This rapidly evolving crisis demands deliberate action. Not delays. There are federal resources through the Small Business Administration, which is releasing $50 billion dollars for assistance. Our local state of emergency declaration will help to make that those dollars available to companies in the coming weeks. We know Federal programs and SBA funds will be there to help, but it won’t be available soon enough for the businesses that are already hurting. Speed is a key to deploying these funds to make a real impact.
I’m asking the Salt Lake City Council to approve $1 million dollars in immediate funding to begin the process of helping local businesses offset the loss of revenue. We’re encouraging businesses to apply for this funding to help make payroll, to pay bills and to keep their operations going (available later this week).
I’m asking for a significant and immediate relief package that will help small businesses as immediately as possible during this difficult time. Our goal is to have our Economic Development team administer flexible term, low interest rate loan program that will help businesses offset this revenue loss.
This City support will be in addition to the SBA program and more agile so your business can continue to operate while the SBA process develops.
The character of Salt Lake City is creative. It is compassionate and it is collaborative. Utahns volunteer more than any other state in the nation. In a time of uncertainty, the one thing we know we can count on is each other. It’s in our DNA as a state. We must rely on each other right now. We can get ahead of this and we can learn from the delays of others. We are meeting often even daily last week with our Business Advisory Board as a City to gather input and we’re forming a Small Business Recovery Task Force. Our team will provide direct technical assistance for SBA Federal loan programs for businesses to access once it becomes available and we are working with the city council to create our Business Emergency Loan program.
Salt Lake City is working around the clock to support you. We ask that all of the businesses in the community to keep communicating with us so that we can evolve our resources to fit your needs. Salt Lake City Economic Development has a special website for COVID-19. It’s built for local businesses and it will stay up-to-date continuously with federal and local resources as well as a forum for you to communicate with your Capital City. Thank you for being here today.