Economic officials turn focus to data collection, information

Chamber execs reminding businesses to keep good records

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

LEE COUNTY – Local economic development officials have shifted focus during the COVID-19 outbreak to helping the state cultivate information, while being an hour-by-hour resource for area businesses.

Dennis Fraise, CEO of Lee County Economic Development Group and Dana Millard, Economic Development Project manager, sent out a survey Wednesday morning in conjunction with the Iowa Economic Development Authority and both Keokuk and Fort Madison chambers of commerce, asking business owners to discuss the impact of federal, state, and local actions to combat the coronavirus and COVID-19 illness.

Fraise and Millard are encouraging business to complete the surveys, which can be found by clicking here: https://uni.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4SK7W5qa88IkhXT and http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07egz3zui3k7v5ldbd/a012ak7xo6odl/questions

“We’re working with IEDA and our partners locally and regionally to get some additional information from our businesses, not only large, but small business that are feeling the impact so we can better serve and respond to their needs,” Millard said.

MILLARD

The surveys look at impacts to business revenue, child care and staffing levels as a result of coronavirus outbreak and the state disaster order.

The first survey is from the IEDA and is more of state look, while the second was compiled by LCEDG and the Fort Madison and Keokuk chambers to get a more localized look at economic impacts.

“We’re seeing that small businesses are the ones being impacted the most, and right now we’re focusing on the day-to-day operational disruption and trying to help employers,” Fraise said.

“They are being more flexible with employees and a lot of their questions right now are centered around unemployment. So we’re working with them to provide information and resources around that.”

FRAISE

Fraise said the biggest challenge is that there is no playbook for any of what’s happening, and smaller companies with no human resources department are struggling the most.

Millard said there is a landing on the LCEDG website that has resources for business to help answer questions and for employees as well.

“It’s kind of a one-stop shop that is updated as we get information from the Governor, IEDA, Centers for Disease Control as well as the local and state health departments.” she said.

The two participated in a statewide IEDA call yesterday and the focus was on how to help without further stressing businesses with surveys.

“We learned there are a lot of agencies out there trying to find ways to help. We want to coordinate with those groups so we don’t inundate them. We want to work as a team and be concise,” Fraise said.

“People are dealing with so much stuff right now. For example I don’t think we fully appreciate how many kids are fed by schools on a daily basis. We want to make sure we’re a resource and help connect the dots for them.”

Both Fort Madison Community School District and Central Lee Community School are implementing plans in the coming days to provide breakfast and lunch meals for all students regardless of income. Holy Trinity Catholics system is currently working on plans and should have information on possible meal programs as early as tomorrow.

Fraise said area industries are exempt from the governor’s disaster order of Tuesday, but other challenges face those employers and their employees.

“They haven’t asked the industries to cut down, thank goodness,” he said. “Everyone is running as well as they can. But employees are facing child care issues and there is a lot of other moving parts there.”

Millard said that’s part of the value of the surveys.

“One reason why we wanted to put together the local survey was so we can get a better understanding of those impacts with daycare and child care and if there is something we can do to help those efforts,” Millard said.

Fraise said there is a tremendous sense of communities coming together and an outpouring of support for local businesses.

“It’s going to be our small businesses that will take the brunt of this early on. And we’re hearing and seeing lots of people stepping up to say buy and shop local,” he said.

“It’s up to us to help solve this on a state level. The call we had with IEDA we left so impressed with that department on what they are doing to cut through the red tape and develop programs on the fly, if you will.

“This is a huge deal and scary and we think the state is doing the right things.”

Fraise said he thinks the state will get more restrictive over the next four to six weeks, but doesn’t know if it will get to the “shelter in place” scenario, that is being seen in larger cities.

“Until there’s evidence of a better direction, for the foreseeable future this will be the new reality. I think it will be the the 1st of June until we’ve turned the corner,” he said.

“Our goal to stay plugged into the state and federal agencies. But things are changing by the hour so buckle up and lets see where we go.”

Shelley Oltmans, Executive Director at the Keokuk Chamber of Commerce, said her office is telling members to keep good records while the outbreak runs its course.

“No. 1, how is it impacting your business numbers. If you closed -why?. Keep a good log book for those kinds of things,” she said.

“Keep good records for what you’re doing.”

Oltmans also works with the Iowa State Extension office and says that group is trying to provide as much generalized information to residents as possible through online and website communications.

“We’re really pivoting now and trying to provide a good online experience for everyone. Everything we’re doing is online right now. We’re working remotely and being told to hang on tight for about four weeks.”

Fort Madison Partner’s Executive Director Tim Gobble said the Fort Madison office hasn’t been fielding a lot of questions, but is focusing efforts on making sure information is readily available for small businesses that are still functioning – some in a limited capacity such as bars and clubs, etc.

GOBBLE

“Our efforts have been providing information and making sure what they have available is online and people know they can still order and making it known that the restaurants, bars, social clubs etc are going to need our help,” he said.

“Right now businesses need to provide as much information as they can and keep records of what is happening with employees, wages, income loss that sort of thing. Keep a snapshot of that and comparables. That information will be helpful when it comes to reporting to the state.”

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