WMC and several other business organizations ask Evers for plan to restart economy

Hope to begin process on April 24

Last updated on April 13th, 2020 at 02:26 pm

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, 18 other statewide business associations and 33 local chambers of commerce sent a letter to Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday asking for his administration to create a plan that allows the state’s economy to begin to restart on April 24, when the governor’s “Safer at Home” order is set to expire, though it could be extended.

The order was put in place to require social distancing and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. But it has also effectively shut down most of the state’s economy, and business leaders are hopeful that it can be restarted as soon as possible.

“Restarting our economy will not happen overnight, and it likely will not be all at once,” said Kurt Bauer, WMC president and chief executive officer. “That is why the business community and Gov. Evers need to work together on a plan that determines what industries and what areas of Wisconsin can open safely, along with a timeline.”

“Employers appreciate the attention to public health that you and your administration have had in recent weeks,” the WMC letter to Evers states. “We all want to reduce infections of COVID-19 so that Wisconsin can get back to work and get back to spending time with family and friends as soon as possible.

“Unfortunately, the social distancing requirements within the Safer at Home order have not come without significant economic cost. We have broken records for unemployment claims, with nearly 300,000 new claims in March alone. Foot traffic at retail businesses is down more than 50%, and is down more than 75% at restaurants. Our state unemployment rate is now estimated to be 13.4%, which is higher than any time in recorded history – and it is expected to climb higher. Businesses and their employees find themselves in times of unprecedented hardship and uncertainty.

“Wisconsin needs to bring certainty to workers and businesses alike by setting a firm date to begin the process of reopening our economy on April 24 – the end date for the Safer at Home order.

“To be clear, no one expects that our economy would go back to ‘business as usual’ on April 24. We understand that reopening will require a very strategic and well-planned approach that, over time, phases our economy back to an operational level that existed prior to any social distancing requirements.

“With that said, policymakers must recognize the economy will not restart without careful preparation and planning. Many businesses simply cannot restart their operations on short notice. Employers must have lead time to recall furloughed employees back to work, make new hires to replace lost employees, restock supplies and raw materials, reengage their supply and distribution chains, and find a means to recapitalize their businesses to accomplish these steps. Utilizing the April 24 expiration of the Safer at Home order as the target date will allow businesses and workers to engage in the planning necessary to relieve the current economic hardship, and importantly, demonstrate to Wisconsin citizens who are struggling that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“Wisconsin businesses fully recognize that as businesses begin to reopen, there will be a need to maintain some level of social distancing requirements, and perhaps other steps to mitigate person-to-person spread that might involve the use of masks, gloves or other personal protective equipment. We also understand that the approach to reopening businesses may involve a more targeted geographic approach which recognizes that different parts of the state are having a very different experience in terms of transmission and infection rates.

“Thank you again for your focus on public health during this unfortunate time,” the WMC letter to Evers concludes. “We stand ready to work with you to ensure that our economic health is able to come back strong after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, and we hope you will agree that Wisconsin needs to begin that process on April 24.”

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.