Keep calm and carry out: With outbreak, it’s anything but business as usual

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The World War II-era admonition to keep calm and carry on applies today to Grand Valley businesses facing the growing threat of the coronavirus outbreak on their operations, local leaders say.

Jon Maraschin

Business owners and managers should consider how best to respond and then proceed in what could be new and creative ways — whether that’s having staff work from home or delivering products differently. Not only carry on, but also carry out. Resources are available to help. So is the support of local organizations and customers.

“The first thing that business owners can do is to take a little time to stop, assess and develop a plan,” said Jon Maraschin, executive director of the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction. “There’s a ton of information coming at business owners from all sides right now, and it would be easy to panic or make quick decisions.”

Diane Schwenke

Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said it’s also important to keep positive. “Throughout the history of the Grand Valley, we’ve had ups and downs, booms and busts, and we’ve always emerged stronger economically.”

As of press deadline on March 23, Mesa County Public Health reported five positive cases of COVID-19 infections in the county. Statewide, 720 positive cases were reported.

As the number of positive cases and deaths has grown, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has announced a series of measures intended to slow the spread of the outbreak.

Cilia Kohn

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment closed restaurants, bars, theaters, gyms and casinos for 30 days. Establishments are allowed to offer food and beverage service, but only through drive-through, drive-up or delivery services. Establishments may allow up to five members of the public on the premises to pick up orders, but those people must remain at least 6 feet apart.

Polis issued an executive order effective March 24 until least 11:59 p.m. April 10 requiring Colorado employers to cut in-person staffing by half and implement work-from-home options to the greatest extent possible.

Brandon Stam

The order exempts what are deemed essential employers, including those involved in providing health care, food, gasoline, news and telecommunications services.

Mesa County School District 51 facilities were closed to the public through at least April 10 with remote learning programs scheduled to start March 30. Government offices and other facilities also have closed to the public. Mesa County Libraries locations will close until at least April 6.

In addition, events have been canceled or postponed, including the Jump Start Job Fair, Western Colorado Economic Summit and West Slope Startup Week.

Cilia Kohn, director of marketing and communications with the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said keeping employees healthy remains a priority for businesses and the community.

Depending on the business, that means finding ways for employees to work from home, offering services over the telephone or internet or delivering products in different ways, Kohn said.

Schwenke said it’s important for businesses to communicate what they’re doing. “If you are still open, communicate how you are keeping your place of business, your employees and the public safe.”

Schwenke said businesses have increased their cleaning and sanitation procedures and moved to telephone and online communications.

Brandon Stam, executive director at the Downtown Grand Junction Partnership, said downtown business have responded proactively to the outbreak. Retailers have been taking orders over the phone or online even as restaurants offer takeout or delivery. Downtown parking is free until further notice and some parking spots have been designated as pickup zones for customers ordering food from restaurants, Stam said.

Mesa Mall has temporarily adjusted operating hours to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, said Paul Petersen, general manager. Some retailers in the mall have changed their hours or closed temporarily, he said.

Washington Prime Group, a real estate investment trust that owns Mesa Mall, has offered the use of mall space to local, state and federal agencies — possibly as a distribution center, Petersen said.

In the meantime, organizations offer a range of resources to help businesses.

With the Business Incubator Center physically closed, the center has moved to a virtual platform for classes, coaching and meetings, Maraschin said. The Revolving Loan of Mesa County administered at the center will play a role as well, he said.

Schwenke said the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce will offer video conference briefings on such topics as emergency preparedness, human resources issues and handling capital needs. The chamber also has compiled lists of resources for business as well as restaurants and coffee shops offering carryout and delivery.

The Fruita Chamber of Commerce launched a Facebook group titled Grand Valley Business Support to offer information.

The Palisade Chamber of Commerce joined with Fusion Group USA, a Grand Junction website and software development company, to develop a free listing website called Who’s Open Colorado.

Kohn said businesses that need assistance are encouraged to contact the Business Incubator Center, local chambers or GJEP. “One of our greatest assets in the Grand Valley, which helped us through the last recession, is our spirit of collaboration. We have a local task force in place working on short- and long-term solutions to move past the virus toward swift economic recovery.”

Residents can help by shopping locally, business leaders said.

“Support local businesses by ordering takeout and accessing their products and services,” Schwenke said. “Buy local. And if you have suggestions on how to make it easier to do that, let businesses know.”

Here, at a glance, are some of the websites offering information and resources to businesses in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak: