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Business leaders hopeful for economic recovery

Staff Writer | May 9, 2020 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — “Anxious.”

That one word best describes how Coeur d’Alene’s business community is feeling, said Derrell Hartwick, CEO of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.

With the critical summer season approaching, business owners are asking when they can open, what they can and can’t do, and what to expect as Idaho readies to enter the second phase of Gov. Brad Little’s reopening plan.

“Everybody is wanting to get back going,” he said Friday.

At the same time, they want their customers and employees to be safe as possible from the coronavirus, Hartwick added.

Hartwick was joined by Jamé Davis, Post Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO, Chris Fillios, Kootenai County commissioner, and Kandi Johnson, CEO of the Hayden Chamber of Commerce, for the North Idaho COVID-19 business leaders Zoom call Friday afternoon. About 50 people listened in.

The first phase of Little’s Idaho Rebounds program began May 1 and is loosening economic restrictions across the state. In Kootenai County, businesses are beginning to reopen, but the question remains, how’s business?

“All these businesses want to get back open,” Hartwick said.

He said as anxious as many business owners are, “no one wants to get in trouble.” They want to take things slow and steady, and avoid rushing to open and then having a second wave of the coronavirus.

The chamber has been receiving a lot of requests from businesses, and is focusing on providing the latest and most accurate information so business owners can make sound decisions.

“We’re almost like the middle man,” he said.

The tourism outlook for summer is solid, but one can’t be sure what will happen. It’s expected people will come.

“As far as visitors go, we’re not going to stop people from coming in,” Hartwick said.

They will be welcome and they are wanted, he added, but will be asked to maintain social distancing guidelines.

“We understand the level of how extreme this is,” he said.

Davis said the March 25 stay-home order from Gov. Little, “was like a punch in the gut. I think we were all reeling and going through it together.”

She said a “fair amount” of businesses called the chamber in panic as the economy shut down. But many others called and said, “How can I help?”

The Post Falls chamber sent a 16-question survey to its membership to get a read on how the coronavirus was impacting businesses.

About 35 percent said they had to reduce their work force, while about 60 percent applied for PPP loans. Twenty-eight percent indicated they would anticipate expanding operations as the economy bounces back.

She said Little’s plans call for more than 30,000 Idaho small businesses to receive Idaho Rebound cash grants, a $300 million investment in Idaho’s small business employers. Applications will be accepted starting Monday.

Davis said as Idaho reaches stages three (May 30 to June 12) and four (June 13 to June 26) of the reopening plan, “Hopefully by the time we hit there we’ll be back ready to rock and roll in North Idaho.”

The Post Falls Chamber is presenting a virtual town hall meeting on COVID-19 and its effects from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, with Mayor Ron Jacobson, Police Chief Pat Knight and City Administrator Shelly Enderud.

Johnson, executive director of the Hayden chamber, said they have been working from home, streamlining processes and helping members.

“We’re anxious to get back to life as normal,” she said.

Johnson asked whether businesses that require customers to wear face masks will provide them. The answer, in general, was “personal responsibility” — that people should have them if a shop requires them.

Fillios said while the county administration building reopened Monday, most employees are still working from home. He said it will continue to operate that way as long as Little’s orders are in effect.

He said the county is not expecting “a major impact” on its budget due to the coronavirus.

“We are functioning, we are functioning well,” Fillios said.

He said he has received requests that he defy Little’s stage reopening plan.

“That isn’t going to happen,” he said. “The governor is in charge, I took an oath of office.”