Business group coalition, determined to reopen more of the economy, tells Murphy data is on their side

A group of more than 100 business groups and associations on Tuesday urged Gov. Phil Murphy to reopen the business community, sending him an updated opening proposal in an open letter.

And they did it with one of the governor’s favorite phrases as their lead: Data drives decisions.

Tom Bracken, the head of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the state’s low rate of transmission and positivity rate — not to mention the number of people hospitalized or on ventilators due to COVID-19 — means the state is ready to enter its next phase.

“The medical data we have in New Jersey is some of the best in the country,” Bracken told ROI-NJ. “Every metric that is used has been in an acceptable range for six or eight weeks, but we’re still on pause.

“The business community has been patiently waiting — and now we have the medical data to support more of an opening.”

The New Jersey Business Coalition’s Recovery and Reinvention Framework 2.0, an update to the group’s original document issued in early May, said the data is key.

In fact, the group said the data is so good — and comes from so many parts of the state — that Murphy could even open up the state by county.

“The counties with numbers that are better can reopen faster,” he said. “This will give the ones that aren’t the incentive to do what other counties are doing.”

Michele Siekerka, the head of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said any rollout plan would be welcomed. Businesses, she said, need a plan.

“Right now, our economy is in an unsustainable and extenuated pause mode that needs to end,” she said.

Siekerka said the governor needs to move from being in a tactical mode to implementing a strategic plan.

“Tactic is waking up every day, seeing what the numbers say and then reacting,” she said. “Strategy is proactively looking at what different scenarios could be — and having a strategy for every scenario in order to ensure that our economy can be sustained through that scenario.”

Siekerka said a day of reckoning is here for the business community.

“We know that the governor is looking at different models for what COVID is predicted to look like over the next three months to a year for the state of New Jersey,” she said. “Without visibility to those models, how is the business community supposed to plan?

“If I think that I’m going to open in the next week or the next month, I can probably hold on. But, if I know that I’m not going to be able to open for three months, six months or beyond, I need to know. Unfortunately, that’s where businesses are right now. The time to negotiate debt is over. They need to mitigate their losses and go out or business or have a pathway forward. That’s what we’re asking for, absent the ability to open tomorrow.”

Tony Russo, the head of the Commerce and Industry Association agreed. He said timing is everything.

Russo said businesses survived the second quarter because COVID-19 hit at the end of the first quarter — and then businesses got a boost from the federal government. Now, he said, all the PPP money is gone, and second quarter revenues have been down. This will soon become more apparent than ever, Russo said.

“When the numbers come back from the third quarter, there are going to be repercussions,” he said. “You may see additional layoffs, you may see some businesses pivot or just shut down.

“This is the biggest thing we try to tell folks in Trenton: Business lags because it takes time for the numbers to come in. But when they do, business need to act.”

Bracken said businesses are the best solution to revenue problems.

“Look at what the governor keeps talking about: The revenue of the state,” he said. “He’s trying to borrow money. He’s trying to get money from the federal government. But one of the best ways to get revenue for the state is put open businesses and put people back to work.

“This plan accommodates that. It’s a very well thought out plan. And it’s supported very well by all the medical data the governor talks about every day. We are one of the best states in the country on flattening the curve, but we are behind the curve from the standpoint of growth and business re-openings.”

Siekerka preached the safety numbers surrounding businesses, too.

“The business community has gone to painful lengths to make sure that they are safeguarding their workforce, their customers, their vendors and anyone who frequents their facilities,” she said. “And any mini spike that we’ve seen is not being tied back to transacting business but to social parties. It’s not fair to hold the business community at bay because of a spike in social parties.”

Russo said trust. And verify.

“The governor needs to give businesses that can operate safely the chance to reopen,” he said. “He’s got to trust them to do the right thing. I know we’ve got to watch the numbers. I understand the health care concerns. But we can watch them and adjust.”

The key, Russo said, is having a plan.

“Businesses need dates to prepare for the future,” he said.