Business Owners Want More Clarity and Logic in State Reopening Plans

This morning, the New Jersey Business Coalition continued its “State of New Jersey Business” virtual town hall series by hosting a panel discussion that gave business owners an opportunity to voice their concerns and discuss the future needs of their respective industries in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Business owners in industries spanning childcare, K-12 education, outdoor recreation and amusement activities, theaters/entertainment, fitness centers, dining, and workforce development, all shared their thoughts on what their industries need to move forward, which ranged from the need for more clear cut guidelines for operating, to better thought-out vaccine prioritization, to more consistent logic behind capacity restrictions.

“As we turn toward the spring and summer months, many of the industries represented in our discussion still have much in the way of challenges and uncertainty,” said New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA) President and CEO Michele Siekerka, who hosted what was the third iteration of the town hall series. “There is a need for predictability, consistency and certainty in order [for businesses] to plan.”

Schools and Childcare

David Aderhold, superintendent of schools for the West Windsor – Plainsboro Regional School District, and president of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, echoed the sentiment for more clarity on health guidelines and a path forward for schools in particular.

“We need clarification on social distancing requirements,” Aderhold said. “We need rules that don’t say things like, ‘if possible’ or ‘to the extent possible.’ We need clarity around what is allowed.”

He also added that vaccinations will be a key to getting schools back to operating at full in-person capacity, though he said that current prioritization does not reflect this need.

“If the governor and members of the Legislature really want our schools to open now, we have to prioritize educator vaccination,” Aderhold said. “When I am talking about educators, I am not just talking about our teachers, but also our instructional aides, bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, grounds staff, and food workers. We need vaccination support immediately. We have been asking for a coordinated approach to this for months, and to date there is no coordinated plan at the state level to consider educators [for vaccinations].”

Of course, a child’s ability to be in school or be cared for at a childcare facility is vital, as it allows other industries to flourish, as working parents don’t have to weigh going to work against their child-raising responsibilities.

Guy Falzarano, founder and CEO of Lightbridge Franchise Co., and president of Early Childhood Education Advocates, said that with more parents beginning to go back to work, the demand for childcare is ramping up.

“The childcare industry has gone through a devastating period, operating at losses, with many childcare providers going under,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are now having to turn parents away because we are bumping up against what are arbitrary restrictions. Children at the ages that we are dealing with are proven not to be spreaders of this virus. I operate in five other states without these restrictions and we are not seeing any difference between those state’s and what we are seeing in New Jersey, other than the fact that we have a limited number of children we can serve.”

Handing Capacity Increases

Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that beginning tomorrow, capacity limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings are increasing, albeit slightly. This increase falls well short of what is necessary for the event industry to recover, and this is despite many venues having enough space to safely host more guests than the 25 person limit for indoors and 50 person limit for outdoors, according to industry leaders.

“Indoor gatherings will be limited to a maximum of 25 people,” said Michael Chait, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber. “The Atlantic City Convention Center has more than 480,000 continuous square feet, and can easily accommodate more than 25,000 people, but it is limited to just 25 people. [Also], casino floors are open to 35% capacity, but I can not take 26 people from that casino floor and move them into an adjacent ballroom for a meeting.”

Arbitrary restrictions and guidelines like these continue to frustrate business owners, especially when they believe they can operate at a higher capacity while keeping their customers safe and mitigate risk.

For example, Chait additionally points to the Atlantic City Airshow, which under current guidelines would be limited to just 50 people, despite the fact that it takes place on a third of a mile of beach; the same beach allows thousands of people on it every other day.

“Outdoor gathering capacity must take usable square footage and event logistics into consideration versus an arbitrary number,” Chait said. “We ask that the administration trust the event experts that know how to control density, duration and egress.”

“Minor incremental changes to increased capacity means adding costs each time a change is made, and those minor increments aren’t making a difference in revenue,” Siekerka said. “We need to invest one time for our workplace and our facilities of the future so that we can sustain.”

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