MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – A Morris County Chamber of Commerce (MCCC) Task Force launched in late April featuring business, health and government leaders formalized its recommended reopening plan today to save businesses and jobs, with safe, risk-based mitigation measures. State Senator Anthony Bucco (NJ-25) will be forwarding the plan to the Governor Murphy and legislative leaders encouraging Murphy’s Administration to review and adopt its guidance. Bucco will also use insights gained from the conversation with business owners to advocate for additional changes across state government.
The Task Force is chaired by Bruce Groves, President & CEO of Emilcott & Associates, an environmental health and safety firm, and the report received significant input from health executive and former hospital system CEO Joan White-Wagoner, as well as toxicologist and pathologist Deborah Barsotti, Ph.D. Mike Stanzilis Vice President of the Morris County Chamber also helped bring together key leaders from within the membership to support the Task Force.
“There’s no doubt that the COVID crisis has presented unchartered territory for our economy, government, and society. We recognize that there aren’t easy answers and we applaud the Administration for its efforts to do everything possible to protect public health. The trouble is, for many businesses, we are out of time. I’ve sadly heard from businesses who are at their breaking point, while others are just days or a few short weeks from closing for good,” Bucco said. “I want to thank Bruce, Joan, Deborah, the Morris Chamber and our Task Force members for their leadership. The Governor has always said it’s about facts and science, and this report incorporates both. With the highest risk businesses like grocery and big box stores operating successfully with proper mitigation, its well past the time to reopen all businesses so they have a chance to survive this crisis. Otherwise, we face severe ripple effects deep into state and local budgets that have downstream impacts on school funding, social services, tax relief, and more. Health and economic stability can co-exist.”
The Task Force Plan outlines a 4-tier scorecard to determine a Business Risk Ranking, and outlines mitigation measures for each tier. Given New Jersey’s peak in COVID cases on April 14, as well as a 14-day downward trend in cases, hospitals are in a far better position to accommodate spikes and places the state within the CDC’s guidance for reopening of the economy.
“We believe about 80 percent of businesses are at minimal risk of COVID spread, yet many of these businesses are still closed. Using a science-based approach to risk, simple guidelines like requiring proper training for employees, routine cleaning, the availability of PPE and occupancy limits can at least get the economy moving again in a smart, safe way,” said Groves, a certified industrial hygienist. “We heard the need from our members for clarity as it relates to business operations, and we believe this plan provides that framework for state decision makers.”
Many businesses like car dealerships are already safely operating in some essentials ways, like service, but severely restricted for auto sales which make up the core revenues of the business.
“Car dealerships, for example, are massive facilities that can accommodate the resumption of auto sales with common sense, socially distant practices already employed throughout the dealership for services deemed essential,” added Jim Ott of Mercedes Benz of Paramus, who also owns dealerships in Morris County and was a member of the Task Force.
Amanda Veinott’s business, Momique in Morris Plains, came to the disheartening conclusion that permanently closing was the only path forward in light of the pandemic.
“After pouring our family savings into our business, investing every minute and every dollar of revenue into Momique, we were just starting to see the fruits of our labor pay off after two years – we were on track for a breakout 2020. The pandemic has fundamentally altered how customers interact with businesses, and left us no realistic way to operate on 25 percent of our revenues,” Veinott said. “I worry about so many business owners, particularly brick and mortars like mine, who will wake up one day soon and realize their best option is to give up on their dream and close their business for good. The urgency is real, and the sad reality is so many small business owners will end up with heavy debt burdens that will complicate personal financial decisions for the foreseeable future.”
“Morris County is home to a diverse set of businesses, and the leaders that supported the Task Force efforts are a demonstration of that. We are already in conversation with additional state business advocacy organizations to utilize the framework released today to get New Jersey back to work safely as soon as possible,” said Meghan Hunscher, President & CEO of the Morris County Chamber of Commerce. “I look forward to the Chamber being a partner in that effort.”
Other ideas from the Task Force focused on strategic opportunities that could arise out of the crisis.
“Now is the time for New Jersey to capitalize on its stock of low-rise suburban office campuses. These offices are abundant and ready to meet the need for employers looking for more spacious office environments,” said Jeff Hipschman of CBRE. “These properties can be reached without commuting via mass transit and, often, employees don’t have to ride elevators to reach their desks. Accelerating of construction permits to rehab individual offices quickly is key.”
“We’re proud to have been a partner in pulling this effort together and being a voice for countless businesses that the Murphy Administration can rely on,” said the MCCC’s Stanzilis. “At the heart of this issue is fairness. It’s fundamentally unfair for big box stores like Walmart to remain open for customers selling clothes, gifts and sneakers, as my son recently purchased, while our Main Street shops are barely surviving. While curbside pickup is a start for all retailers, the survival of our downtowns and small businesses depends on reopening safely immediately, which is what this plan outlines.”
“As a leading construction and manufacturing firm safety remains our number one priority. Tilcon has modified our already stringent protocols, enabling us to continue to provide essential services to the New Jersey communities we serve throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Josh Benson of Tilcon. “We support MCCC and Senator Bucco’s initiative to ensure other industries can open, enabling them to also serve our community safely and effectively.
“I applaud the effort of the MCCC Task Force to produce a plan using science and objective metrics to promote the opening of businesses safely and effectively,” said Alan Zakin, Esq., Chairman of the MCCC Government Affairs Committee. “Bruce Groves’ and Senator Bucco’s plan seeks to ensure that all businesses can open where they can do so in a safe way for employees and patrons, while ensuring necessary safety protocols are carefully followed. I look forward working with them, the MCCC Government Affairs Committee, area businesses and all our leaders in Trenton to ensure these common sense science based practices can be implemented.”
A copy of the Task Force plan can be found here.