Originally in the American Press, May 19, 2020
Friday May 15, 2020, will be remembered as the day that Louisiana began to re-open after the March 16 Stay-at-Home order by the governor. In our region, perhaps more businesses and industries continued operation than most other states.
Our industrial plants continued operation, a number of grocery, building supply, and retail big boxes remained opened after being deemed essential. Many restaurants continued to operate with pick-up and delivery options, and drive-thru restaurants probably had record sales. Most folks came to believe that all businesses are essential including hair and nail salons, gyms, and retail shops including the mall.
Louisiana followed the recommendations from the White House that before a state could re-open there should be declining cases of COVID-19 for at least 14 days. The Alliance took the position that some regions of the state should be able to open earlier than others, but that position was not supported by the governor.
After all of that, we are now in a Phase One opening. This means that restaurants, casinos, and other businesses can open, provided they adhere to 25 percent of the fire marshall-approved occupancy, with strict social distancing, and that masks be worn by employees.
There has been pushback on wearing masks but health officials remind us that wearing a mask and social distancing will go a long way in helping to bring this deadly virus under control. Wearing a mask is not for you, it is for others. It is a courtesy and sign of good faith to those you meet.
If our area continues to have a decline in COVID cases, we should be able to move to Phase Two openings in June. This would allow more capacity at establishments.
The governor said he would announce on June 1 what next steps would go into effect June 5.
The Alliance at The SEED Center on the campus of McNeese State University re-opened Monday but with limited access under this current phase. We are not hosting any gatherings during this time. The Chamber SWLA and Economic Development Alliance has been open during the stay-at-home order with most staff working remotely. We checked in with chamber members, fielded hundreds of phone calls regarding business financial assistance, sent information to our members, provided guides for businesses and restaurants that were open, and presented re-opening guides. The Alliance has utilized zoom for webinars and committee meetings.
From 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday we will conduct a virtual Business After Hours with networking and highlighting the new Villa Westlake Apartments. Check our Alliance website to register.
All of us are asking what will the new “normal” be? National experts warn that there will not be a sudden restart of commerce. Re-opening is happening by degrees depending on the type of business.
If we adhere to the policies in the governor’s order such as social distancing and wearing masks, then we can move to the next level. It’s the price we pay to get COVID-19 under control. The most detrimental effect would be another closure which would finish off dozens of small businesses.
We are hopeful that Southwest Louisiana can re-bound quicker than most places in the nation due to our strong industrial base and diversified economy. Our gaming and hospitality sector, which took the hardest hit, has re-opened and it will be great to get those workers back. As folks feel comfortable traveling they will respond also. In addition to dealing with the COVID issues, we have continued to talk with potential industrial prospects, monitored the state legislature, and pushed for national funding for a new I-10 bridge.
The game plan we had for 2020 has been thrown out the window, but the Alliance is needed now more than ever to focus on rebuilding our economy, getting our workforce back and assisting in getting SWLA to continue to lead the nation in growth.