Commentary: State businesses can safely open their doors

Just as grocery stores have safely operated, more businesses in the state should be allowed to reopen.

By Mike Sotelo / For The Herald

On April 7, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a $5 million small business grant program to help business in Washington state. While it will help, it doesn’t go far enough.

The Ethnic Chamber of Commerce Coalition (ECCC) represents minority businesses in the Greater Seattle region. There are more than 39,000 minority- and ethic-owned businesses in the Puget Sound region. This is just a portion of the total businesses in the state. Simple math tells us that the $5 million fund would net about $128 per business for each of the 39,000 minority businesses locally; put another way, less than $10 per business for the more than half-million small businesses in Washington state.

The state needs to do more, but not through more handouts.

While state-defined essential businesses continue to stay open, the decision to keep other business closed that could re-open with reasonable safety guidelines, needs to be re-considered. This will be the biggest help to the small business in Washington. Many of these businesses are essential to the families, employees and communities they support.

Washington state has done a good job of limiting the spread of the virus, and infection rates have slowed. The University of Washington medical professionals reporting data at healthdata.org, are predicting within the next week that the daily infection rates for COVID-19 will significantly fall. This doesn’t mean, however, that the state must wait until the very end of April before considering allowing some low-risk industries to return to work.

There are several industries that, with social distancing and other precautions, will be able to create a safe work environment and prevent any resurgence of the virus.

The construction industry, retailers, restaurants and service industries can re-open with distance and occupancy guidelines. Many construction sites, for public contracts, are already open for business and employers and employees have demonstrated they can be responsible. The private construction industry can do the same.

Essential retailers are already following the COVID-19 guidelines, and this should be extended to all retailers. For other, office-based businesses, they could keep employees working from home and some in the office, limiting in-person meetings.

There is opportunity to restart the economy without making the crisis worse.

Business opening as soon as possible, with some guidelines, is a measured approach to help our economy get back on track as soon as possible.

At ECCC, returning to work and re-starting the economy is paramount for our members and the communities we serve.

Mike Sotelo is president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of King County and a board member for the Ethnic Chambers of Commerce Coalition. He lives in Bellevue.

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