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OPINION: Close the Amazon Tab, Think Salina First

Todd PittengerMay 3, 2020

Even with the Stay at Home Executive Order being lifted, it remains a difficult time. That is undeniable. It is in these difficult times that the ingenuity of Saline County business owners and public officials must be harnessed to arrive at a solution that balances the health and safety of individuals and the general social and economic welfare of Salina and our region.

The federal government took unprecedented steps to support employers and individuals during the current shutdown. The Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan, Families First, and stimulus monies were a good and swift first step, but with all legislation passed quickly, there will be additional rulings and modifications of the programs during implementation. However, there are still businesses and individuals that will remain under distress during any phased or gradual reopening.

Under the Paycheck Protection Program, Congress authorized forgivable loans equal to 2 ½ times monthly payroll for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The SBA is using thousands of banks to process applications and distribute the money Congress appropriated. The local lender community that services the SBA loan programs helped Kansas rank 3rd out of the 50 states with 26,245 loans that equaled $4.3B. Our local financial institutions should be commended for the long hours and hard work they put in to help local businesses with a much-needed funding opportunity. CARES Act 3.5 was passed late last week and included additional funding for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Paycheck Protection Program, and it is forecasted to run out quickly based on the backlog in funding applications. It would be no surprise if some of those applications are from local businesses that could desperately need it.

Given early indications of the way the CARES Act is being implemented across the country and the staggering unemployment figures continue to underscore the need for bridge funding to keep more Americans on the job and more businesses afloat during the coronavirus economic crisis.
Without businesses and their employees, the ability of our federal, state, and local governments to weather this economic storm will be debilitating. Understanding that the overall public health and maintaining safety is paramount but this is truly a double-edged sword scenario because without tax creating projects, jobs, services, and properties then there are significantly less funds for all of the basic needs of local government including public safety, infrastructure, and the oversight of regulations and ordinances.

The billion-dollar question that has not been answered is: What will a return to work look like under the phased reopening? That is the question weighing heavily on the minds of government leaders, public health officials, employers, and their employees, and those striving for the delicate balance of staying safe and making ends meet. Opening our economy is a question that begs more questions. The gradual, phased-in, reopening will vary by factors such as location, sector, business type or size, and the health status of workers. It also will require continued social distancing, expanded use of personal protective equipment, and other counter measures all of which may be a strain on businesses that are still reeling from the past month.

A return to work and our economic re-opening boils down to the ‘Four C’s’ of cash, customers, communication, and confidence. Public officials need to understand the importance of the Four C’s to our business community; and our business community needs to understand the importance of maintaining social distancing and following public health guidelines. Communication is paramount as well because there are no two like business owners. All have different needs, fears, employees, and what is good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. Together, confidence can be built and all involved can continue to follow the data to thoughtfully guide decisions to ensure a resurgence in cases doesn’t happen.

From Blue Skye Brewery producing sanitizer, to Vortex Valves and Kansas Wesleyan University producing face shields for the medical community, to KSAL hosting a Cruise on Santa Fe to raise funds and food donations, to Bravo Sliders and Bites providing meals to the elderly, this list could go on and on but it is just a short snippet of how our businesses and organizations that have always made Salina a great community continue to go above and beyond in a time of great need. As consumers, I’d like to challenge everyone to think locally and Think Salina First when you decide to make your next purchase and go above and beyond for the small businesses right now! Go to their websites, social media pages, or better yet send them a message or pick up the phone. These businesses have sponsored hundreds of thousands of your shows, teams, drives, fundraising auctions, projects, sculptures, soup suppers, meals, poker runs, and so much more and now, more than ever, local businesses need our support!

Close the Amazon tab and Think Salina First!

Eric L. Brown President/CEO Salina Area Chamber of Commerce

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