Ray Hagerman is working from home for a few days.
“I’m trying to do what everyone has said,” the President of the Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation said Tuesday. “I’m working remotely.”
But Hagerman can’t take even a remote guess right now about how the coronavirus will affect Hopkins County businesses.
“We don’t know how long we’ll be doing these behavior-altering activities,” Hagerman said.
There’s no word yet of layoffs or furloughs at large area employers. But some employees have expressed concern about work areas not having sufficient supplies or separation to keep them safe.
“We’re absolutely safe,” said Andy Blades at the GE Aviation plant Tuesday. Blades is President of IUE-CWA Local 701.
Blades said he requested information about the company’s COVID-19 response plan. Some information arrived Tuesday, but he deferred to General Electric when it came to releasing details.
An email to GE Aviation was not returned by publication deadline. But in an afternoon briefing, Governor Andy Beshear answered a question from another GE union member. He said businesses should do all they can to encourage social distancing.
When it comes to small business, the Hopkins County Regional Chamber of Commerce is keeping its doors downtown unlocked.
“We’re open for business,” President Libby Spencer said Tuesday. But at that moment, she was the only one in the office while other staff members worked from home.
The Chamber offered a $5 solution on Facebook Tuesday for keeping the economy going.
“Let’s promise each other and our business community that we will spend five dollars at a local business,” a post suggested.
But some businesses looked like Tuesday was Christmas Day instead of St. Patrick’s Day. Parking lots at many Madisonville restaurants were empty, after Governor Andy Beshear suspended all indoor dining Monday.
Bath & Body Works announced it would close all North American stores temporarily, including the one at Parkway Plaza Mall. A statement posted by Chief Executive Officer Andrew Meslow said all employees still will be paid.
This follows AMC Theaters’ decision to close all locations for the time being. Parkway Plaza Mall has 16 screens.
Some people have compared the coronavirus scare in the U.S. to the terror attacks of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Hagerman noted there are some differences.
“There were one or two days of tragic happenings. The rest was getting over it,” Hagerman said. This emergency is lasting much longer, with no clear end date.
For now, Hagerman urges business owners to stay connected and follow the guidance of national, state and local officials.
“Alter your behavior, but recognize that we’re doing this for the good of everyone,” Hagerman said. “There’s a short-term impact. But in the long run, it’s the right thing to do.”
Spencer is finding silver linings in these dark-feeling days. In fact, they could turn golden in time.
“Businesses are doing things that they might not have done otherwise to innovate,” Spencer said. She cited curbside restaurant service as an example, saying, “other communities have done that forever.”
In other developments related to the coronavirus in Hopkins County:
• the City of Madisonville closed all government buildings to “outside foot traffic” except for “necessary personnel.” Trash collection and city parks will continue as usual.
• Hanson closed its City Hall to the public. It will be staffed during business hours for phone calls. A dropbox outside is available for paying water bills.
• The Chamber of Commerce postponed two focus group meetings on strategic planning until a date to be determined.
• The Madisonville Lions Club postponed its Man and Woman of the Year banquet. It had been scheduled for Monday, March 30.
• The Messenger closed its office to visitors until further notice.