Georgia Chamber offers outlook for business in the age of COVID-19

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Chris Clark has spent a lot of time in the past six weeks thinking and probably worrying about the economy in the Peach State. 

He is the president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. 

Clark says that some businesses across the state are slowing reopening but there’s a stark reality about what they’re facing and an understanding that things have certainly changed.

“Every business in Georgia and every business in America is now in the health and wellness business,” said Clark.

He says businesses must comply with health standards and protocols and weigh the concerns of customers and staff. 

“And we’re telling those who have issues at this point that if they’re not ready that they shouldn’t open,” Clark told News 3.

In terms of some of the openings like restaurants and beauty salons as allowed per Gov. Brian Kemp, Clark says those businesses, for the most part, were all “Mom and Pop” outfits and include many minority owners.

“So allowing those businesses to slowly ramp up, I think, was fair for those businesses and for the families that own them and the employees that rely on those businesses feed their kids every day,” said Clark.

Most businesses are doing what they can to open, to comply with changing rules and to start trying to get some money coming in. But Clark says this is not going to signal an end to the crisis.

“It’s going to be with us and we have to learn to live with COVID-19,” said Clark, adding that leaders are trying to look to the future.

“A post COVID economy – we’re planning for it,” he said. “[Tuesday] we launched our Georgia Chamber Resiliency and Recovery Task Force earlier this morning to start planning for life in a recession where you probably need stimulus, you need local support to get business going.”

Yet, Clark is realistic about the fact that local governments will have fewer resources which is why he said many are hoping that Congress will approve yet another round of money to help businesses and “even look to a stimulus package for the national economy.”  

Federal dollars through the Small Business Administration (SBA) were recently renewed and applications from businesses began this week for the second round of funding.  But Clark says on the first day, up to 100,000 applications caused the SBA website to crash. 

He says up to 48,000 businesses received help through the Payroll Protection Program which provided those businesses with up to $9 billion in relief.  He also indicated that more than $100 million was provided to businesses in loans and that other businesses initially received $10,000 in grant money. 

Still, he acknowledges that many other businesses have not yet received help from SBA.

“I do believe you’re going to see a wave of business closures and I think that’s unfortunate, it happens in every recession,” said Clark.  “But of course, the problem is that this is not their fault.”

Clark seems to be optimistic, in the sense that he says this can be a time for businesses to reinvent how they offer services and for other businesses to start up in an effort to serve in this very different economy.

He also says this phase of ramping up and dealing with how COVID-19 has changed things for business owners and consumers could last some time. 

“Is it 14 months, 18 months,” he said. “I don’t know that anyone really knows but the demand to live in a COVID-19 world is going to continue.”

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