Steve Oroho isn’t opposed to slow-playing the reopening of the state’s economy and business community. He just doesn’t think Gov. Phil Murphy needs to orchestrate it.
Oroho, a Republican state senator from northwest New Jersey, said businesses, their employees and their customers will set the pace themselves.
And it’s going to be slow.
“We don’t need to be slow-walking this, because it’s going to be a slow walk anyway,” he said. “People need to become confident again. And not just consumers — employers and employees.
“We need to give people a chance to do this on their own and trust that they will do it right.”
Oroho, reacting to the plan Murphy announced Monday that will open the state in stages, told ROI-NJ that business owners know the reality: Their livelihoods depend on them reopening safely.
“They’re the ones that have the most at risk,” he said. “Not just financially, but the reputation of their business.
“The most important thing businesses have is the confidence of their customers. They’re completely vested in making sure it’s safe, because they know, if they don’t get it right, they don’t get a second chance.”
Oroho appreciates the all-star nature of the committees the governor has set up to plan the reopening — and that they are filled with well-known business owners and leaders — but he said they may not be needed.
Then there’s the fact that all this down time has given owners plenty of time to prepare.
“Business owners have spent every minute of every hour since they shut down thinking, ‘How can we responsibly come back and bring our customers and our employees back?’” he said. “I’ve been on so many different Zoom calls and they completely understand that they have to gain the confidence of their customers and employees.”
So, what’s the wait?
Oroho said car dealers and what are now called personal care shops (places that do hair and nails) should be opened immediately.
People who want to buy cars in his part of the state are going over state lines, costing New Jersey large amounts of tax revenue, he said.
And, by now, everyone needs to get their hair cut (and, perhaps, colored). Opening those shops would bring many customers to strip malls — thus enticing them to spend money at other stores, too, he said.
Oroho said all of this can be done with proper distancing rules — regulations he said no one will have an issue with.
“People have seen how serious this is over the past two months,” he said. “People understand that it’s going to be different. That they should wear a mask, use a heck of a lot more hand sanitizer or maybe wear gloves. They made those adjustments; they get it.”
Oroho said the governor has done a great job convincing the public how serious COVID-19.
Perhaps too good. He feels many will not come back quickly — even if everything suddenly reopened tomorrow.
“It’s human nature,” he said.
Oroho said he has seen it and heard it anecdotally across the country — one of his sons lives near Atlanta, where business isn’t anywhere near close to the old normal. And he’s heard it in the calls he’s had with his constituents.
“People know this is going to be slow going,” he said. “We made people afraid to go outside. It’s going to take a while for people to get comfortable again.”
Oroho know it’s easy to quarterback from the sidelines. And he was complimentary of Murphy’s guidance, so far.
“The governor is in a tough spot,” he said. “He’s dealing with a large number of deaths, every day. And I think, sometimes, that overwhelms people.”
The numbers, however, are getting better, Oroho said.
“We went from flattening the curve because we can’t overwhelm our health care system to now, where we’ve got our health care systems saying, ‘We actually need to be providing more services because we don’t have the people coming in to keep us financially sound,’” he said.
“So, let’s not slow-walk this thing. I know the governor is talking about how bad economically it has been for the state. But, the sooner we get businesses up and running and able to operate, the hole gets shallower, not deeper.”