More focus sought on helping Florida small businesses

Published: Apr. 23, 2020 at 9:23 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

April 22, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NSF) — Members of a task force created by Gov. Ron DeSantis want more specifics about what hair salons, restaurants and other small businesses must do to reopen after being shut down because of the coronavirus.

During a conference call Wednesday of the executive committee of the Re-Open Florida Task Force, members expressed a need to hear less about what the state’s giant corporations are doing to get through the crisis.

House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said small-business owners need to know quickly what they must do to maintain social distancing and safety for workers and customers when they are allowed to reopen their doors.

“We’ve heard a great deal from a large number of very large corporations, who have within them great resources to do things that small companies cannot do,” said Oliva, who is a member of the executive committee. “I think what small businesses are looking for in the very short term is the understanding of, ‘Can I open my barber shop if people are x amount of feet apart, if the people that are working within the barber shop are wearing certain protective gear, and if only so many people can be in the unit.’”

The goal of the executive committee is to provide recommendations by the end of the week about reopening the state’ economy, with DeSantis’ office coming up with its proposals early next week. Working groups of the task force have been looking at issues involving specific industries.

DeSantis told reporters Wednesday that he wants medical professionals to talk with state licensing boards for different occupations, such as cosmetology and barbers, to discuss ways to reduce contact between employees and customers to prevent spread of the virus.

“I think there’s a path forward for a lot of this stuff, but you got to be smart about it and you have to do it intelligently,” he said.

The executive committee has heard recaps the past two days of working-group meetings that have featured discussions from Walmart, which remains open as an essential business, Universal Orlando, owners of international fast food chains and professional sports organizations.

“Universal and Disney World and everyone else, God bless them, they’re a major part of the economy, they’re going to work it out,” Oliva said. “But what the very small business owner is looking for is, ‘Just tell me what I’ve got to do to open my doors.’”

Tampa General Hospital President & CEO John Couris, a member of the executive committee, said “practical rules of engagement” are needed for businesses so they can start planning to reopen.

Attorney General Ashley Moody, also on the executive committee, said medical professionals need to provide “specific” recommendations on strategies and standards to minimize the threat of the spread of the virus.

“I’m hoping going forward that we can give them that very clear mission that the industry experts tell us what they need to get back up and going, what their concerns are, what their plans are,” Moody said. “And that medical professionals can work with them so that they can give us very specific guidance, like distance, personal protective equipment, reporting when there may be someone at the location that is sick.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a member of the executive committee, said while most of the rules should be general, additional specifics are needed about businesses such as hair cutting, where workers have direct contact with customers.

DeSantis has issued an executive order largely directing people to stay home until April 30. But businesses that have been forced to close have not received an outline about how they can reopen.

The task force set up by DeSantis is dominated by elected officials, leaders of lobbying groups, and leaders of large organizations including Disney World, Universal Orlando, Publix, Florida Power & Light, AT&T, Tampa General, Raymond James Financial Services and Lockheed Martin.

While some of the elected officials and people representing lobbying groups run small businesses, the working group focused on tourism, retail and transportation has only a single person identified as representing a small business, Amy Schwartz, the owner of Bella Bella Restaurant, which is blocks from the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee.

Copyright 2020 News Service of Florida. All rights reserved.