The Aiken Chamber MEANS business
Governor requests your input
The accelerateSC task force led by Governor McMaster is asking for input from Aiken Chamber members. The input from decision makers from all types and sizes of businesses will be used to help the task force and policymakers make decisions on how to re-open and revitalize South Carolina's economy.   The survey link is   https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/accelerateSC

The survey will remain open until 
Thursday, April 30

Open for business - It's complicated

What will a return to work look like?
That is the question weighing heavily on the minds of government leaders and public health officials, employers and their employees, and American families striving for the delicate balance of staying safe and making ends meet.

It is a question that begs more questions. But this much is increasingly certain: returning to work will be gradual, phased-in, and 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 changes.

Whenever the return to work begins, the planning for it must begin now. The American business community must begin preparing now for new processes, requirements, or restrictions for which there is no playbook or precedent. And we must not allow a lack of resources, regulations that are not fit-for-purpose, and the fear of litigation to sideline efforts to return to work and life-safely, successfully, and sustainably.

To help business and government anticipate the challenges we may face, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has begun to explore and catalog some of the major implications of returning to work in this environment-ranging from workplace safety and employee rights to liability concerns and continued revenue disruptions.

Some initial thoughts from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are detailed below.

Working together, we know we can be better prepared for the successful reopening of our economy and an eventual return to normal ways of working and living.
Issues to resolve for a successful return to work 

Resolution of Regulatory and Legal Liability Issues

A reopening plan that is medically based and relies on social distancing and other best practices for public health may raise significant regulatory and legal liability risks. These are in addition to numerous lawsuits already filed as a result of COVID-19 and litigation risk that will become exacerbated during a reopening. Issues include:
Health Privacy
Federal and some state laws are designed to maximize the health privacy of individuals. However, this objective could conflict with potential reopening requirements for employers to verify an employee's COVID-19 status and/or their vulnerability due to underlying health conditions. Employer efforts to protect other employees and conduct contact tracing in the workplace after an individual has tested positive could be slowed by obligations to protect the infected individual's health privacy. In addition, confidentiality requirements could prevent businesses from narrowly focusing their contact tracing so as to balance workforce safety while minimizing business interruption. During the COVID-19 national emergency and recovery period, employers will need a broad safe-harbor to make necessary inquiries regarding health status and to make certain limited disclosures to prevent the spread of the disease  
Exposure Liability
This is perhaps the largest area of concern for the overall business community. It encompasses multiple types of claims that could be brought against business that have been designated as "essential" as well as large swaths of the remaining business community once the economy is reopened. The core component of claims in this category is that a customer/employee/patient/member of the public/etc. was exposed to COVID-19 in a business facility or as the result of a business' particular action, or failure to act, and then that claimant became sick.
Employment Practices
Employers already are facing litigation regarding employment practices related to the pandemic. This includes class actions in the transportation industry regarding employees' scope of work and travel destinations. Employers also could face liability around wage-and-hour issues (for example: Are employees compensated while getting tested or passing through screening?), leave policy, travel restrictions, telework protocols, and worker's compensation. In addition, employers could risk legal actions if they do not accommodate employees who either insist on returning to work even though they have not completed health screenings or are high risk, or who refuse to return to work and provide adequate support for such refusal. There should be a safe harbor for temporary employer-implemented workplace policy changes designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus.  
Support for Independent Contractors
More than 23 million Americans receive income as independent contractors in fields as varied as construction, news reporting, professional services, and online-platform-enabled work. Businesses want to be able to provide the same type of workplace protections to independent contractors as they do for employees. However, doing so could be used to argue that the individual has ceased to be an independent contractor and is instead an "employee." Congress should settle this tension by creating a safe harbor that would allow businesses to implement health practices and provide benefits, including PPE, without establishing a formal employment relationship for the duration of the COVID-19 return to work transition.
Safe Workplace Requirements
Generally, when maintaining a safe workplace requires the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, respirators, and physical barriers, OSHA requires employers to be responsible for ensuring the availability of such equipment and training employees on the use of the equipment. This is simply not possible if PPE becomes recommended in all workplaces. The federal government should make clear that PPE recommended specifically to combat the spread of COVID-19 is not subject to the normal OSHA requirements around workplace PPE. Employers also may face lawsuits around the limited supply of or training for PPE. Worker's compensation issues dealing with shortages of PPE or its incorrect use are also likely to emerge. The federal government should clarify the scope of liability for the provision (or inability to provide due to scarcity) of PPE.
Essential Services and Resources
Bringing employees back to work and reopening commerce will require that certain essential services and resources are in place. These include: 
General Health Screening
 
The CDC has recommended that critical infrastructure employers screen certa in exposed employees for temperature, ideally before entering the facility. If this recommendation is expanded to cover all employees and potentially customers, employers will have to acquire temperature checking equipment and develop a process to screen individuals. Early and federally consistent guidance as to what will be expected is critical because it will take time to acquire equipment and establish protocols. 

COVID-19 Testing
To the extent that return to work is based on the testing of employees either for the COVID-19 virus or antibodies to COVID-19, there will have to be sufficient testing capacity, as well as clear resolution on who is responsible for administering the tests, paying for the tests, and checking test results. Most employers are not well-positioned to administer these medical tests, so there must be widely accessible third-party providers. There also will need to be standardization as to when employees need to be tested, the frequency of tests (especially important if testing for infection, rather than antibodies), and the documentation employees will provide to employers. Frequent testing could be especially costly, and it should be determined who will bear those costs. 
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
If public health professionals recommend widespread use of PPE, such as masks, it will require clarity as to what is needed and who is responsible for providing such equipment, especially if shortages persist. For example, with respect to certain employees in critical infrastructure, the CDC has said: "Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees' supplied cloth face coverings in the event of shortages." However, the purpose of these masks should be made clear as many are not rated for protecting the wearer and employers asking employees to wear them should not be held liable if an employee contracts COVID-19 while wearing such a mask.
Support for Businesses and Individuals
The federal government took unprecedented steps to support employers and individuals during the current shutdown. These programs will need to be modified and to some extent extended and targeted to assist those businesses and individuals who will remain under distress during a phased or gradual reopening. 
Businesses Dependent on High-Density Gatherings or Travel
Entertainment venues, restaurants, bars, companies that host meetings and events, and many other businesses are only profitable when they achieve the type of occupancy and density that is not possible during social distancing. In addition, many businesses rely on business, trade show, and personal travel that may be greatly reduced based on social distancing guidance. A gradual or phased reopening that restricts the size of gatherings or limits travel may technically permit these businesses to reopen but this will mean operating at a significant loss. During the period where occupancy and gatherings are numerically restricted, these businesses should be provided with bridge assistance to enable them to remain viable.
New decisions to make 

The closing of non-essential businesses coupled with shelter in place orders for most citizens has created a crisis environment for our economic well-being. You must now decide how your business will be able to survive this crisis and go on to grow and thrive. This is different than a simple business continuity plan as the factors that have caused this crisis were out of your control. In this way, the effect that this has had on our business community is very similar to communities coping with large scale natural disaster. Many businesses in those communities were able to bounce back and recover as a result of good self-evaluation and planning. Below are a few suggestions for planning your business recovery.
 
  1. Don't waste the downtime!
If your shop or business is idle right now, use the time to organize. Is there a corner, shelf, delivery area or spare room that you've been meaning to get to for months (or years!) to get straightened up? Do it now! Clean it up, straighten it around or throw it out! Maximize your ability to use your workspace to its best potential and productivity.

  1. Inventory! 
Take the time to make a full listing and accounting of all equipment, machinery, appliances and material on hand. Is it perishable? Is it preservable? How long can I fill orders with the material I have on hand when I re-open? What would I need to get back to full operations? What do I need first? Then plan an initial order.
 
  1. Evaluate! 
Begin analyzing your business processes. The priorities of your recovery plan should directly connect to your business priorities. So what are your priorities? At a basic level, this business impact analysis assesses which systems and applications are most critical to your organization's functioning. There are two sides to this coin: the pieces that enable the crucial operations that run your business, and which of those pieces are most vulnerable to threat, loss or shortage? Your business impact analysis and risk assessment should include both.
 
  1. Plan your Strategy! 
Your strategy is the high-level evaluation that looks at how the shut-down recovery fits into your business objectives and what it will take to implement it. It should consider things like:
    • Results from your self-evaluation, business impact analysis and risk assessment
    • Budget - what do I have and what do I need?
    • Resource availability: what people, technology, and other physical assets can or should be included in the recovery plan, and how can you ensure their availability when necessary?
    • Technology: what tools will you use to support your recovery plan?
    • Data: how specifically is data handled and protected as part of your plan?
 
  1. Write the Plan! 
Your business recovery plan is the execution arm of your strategy. It translates your objectives into a tangible checklist of steps to follow to ensure that your business is protected. It should include:
 
    • The "why": the objectives and goals driving the plan
    • The "what": your critical IT systems, prioritized by business impact and risk, as well as their expected recovery times, authentication tools, etc.
    • The "who": the roles and responsibilities of each involved person.
    • The "when": Clearly define the timeframes by which tasks must be completed or implemented.
    • The "where": any geographical considerations, including availability of material for ordering
    • The "how": specific action steps required to restart, reconfigure, and recover. This will also include technological considerations, such as the use of data backup tools.
 
  1. Test your plan! 
Like the Fire and Tornado drills we all went through growing up, it's not enough to only create a plan, you need to ensure that it works! This step is notoriously neglected. Annually, only 40% of companies test their plan, and more than a quarter test "rarely or never." Why? It can be time-consuming, complex, and resource-intensive. It can also, however, identify gaps, incorrect assumptions, technology issues, process inadequacies, missing elements, plan inconsistencies, human resource problems, and more - all of which could play an indispensable role when it's not a drill.
 
Remember, if you need any assistance, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce stands ready to help. Contact us via email- chamber@aikenchamber.net

Grab your favorite brew and join the Aiken Chamber on Zoom for our first ever, virtual Pints & Podcasts networking event. 

Folks will have a chance to introduce themselves, talk about their drink of choice, and what podcast they are currently listening to. 

It will be a great way to connect with one another, and maybe even find a shared interest with someone new. 

Register HERE
Weathering a business downturn with Mark Cuban

In an extremely short period of time, many small businesses  have seen their revenue shrink drastically. Many are having to make difficult decisions that were not even imaginable a month ago.

To offer advice to small businesses that are navigating this time of uncertainty, Mark Cuban ,  an American billionaire, entrepreneur, and investor, placed an open call  on LinkedIn , and the Aiken Chamber of Commerce listened in.

The comments and questions began to flow in faster than they could be read. Event venues who were just getting ready for their busy season are now issuing mass refunds because of cancellations. A gift shop owner will need to cut hours and head count because there is not enough foot traffic. The owner of two auto body shops isn't seeing any customers. There are dozens more. 

As Cuban replied to specific business owners' questions, a few themes began to emerge. 
Be honest with your employees and ask for their ideas.
Things are already uncertain enough. Your employees are concerned about their livelihoods and health. It is more important than ever to be open with communication. 
"Be honest with your employees," Cuban advises. "Let them know what you know. Put yourself in their shoes and ask what they suggest. That is where your best ideas will come from."
Cuban urges owners and managers of small businesses to come together with their employees and work through this together. He also suggests giving employees equity in the company, so they have buy-in to its success.
"This is where you need to be a leader and communicator," he says. "Get everyone together and brainstorm ideas. Maybe there is one that comes up that allows you to change the game."
Lead with compassion.
Giant deals may have fallen through overnight. Large revenue-generating events have been canceled. People are staying home and are no longer coming in. Though this can be devastating for your revenue, try to take a compassionate approach. Stay connected to your customers and maintain those relationships, even if they are not able to commit to buying right now. 
"Realize they are just as stressed and freaked out as you are, and if they aren't they probably will be shortly," Cuban says. "Connect to them at that level. Everyone is searching for answers. Deal with that prospect as humanly and nicely as possible."
Come together with your competitors. 
If your industry is hit particularly hard by the impact of coronavirus, this is not the time to double down crushing your competition. It is time to come together with your competitors and brainstorm ways everyone can get creative during this unprecedented time.  
"People who may not have been as open in the past will be far more likely to explore options and partnerships that kick in post-corona than they were in the past," says Cuban.
Tell customers how they can spend money with you.
You may be able to adapt your business and still bring in revenue. This could be offering virtual events, shifting from in-store sales to online only, or local delivery of your goods. That is step one.
Step two: Make sure everyone knows about it. Start with your biggest customers first and reach out to them directly. You can also leverage social media and email newsletters to communicate. Make sure people know how they can support your business. 
If shifting your business to online sales is not possible, begin publicizing specials and promotions for when things stabilize later. Focus on your future customers now. "This is an opportunity for you to get the word out that you will have a post-corona special price or you will be open for business whenever your customers need you," Cuban says.
Lastly, Cuban encourages small-business owners to use this time to tick those nagging items on their to-do list that they never were able to get around to. "Everyone has things they wish they could re-do. Now is the time to make those changes," he says.