Business leaders find themselves facing multiple problems as they continue to stay open in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of those problems are just part of the pandemic and some of them were created in Washington, local leaders said this week. One of the hottest button issues in the country is whether or not the federal $600 a week unemployment benefit will continue.
The Democratic controlled House passed a bill that kept the benefit in place and the Republican controlled Senate called for a steep reduction in the benefit. However, the Senate adjourned without passing a bill one way or another on the issue.
The benefit expires at midnight Friday.
“Although we feel strongly that there are truly individuals out there that need assistance at the same time our businesses are desperate for workers to come back to work for them,” said Carol Roberts, the president and CEO of the Bay County Chamber of Commerce. “We have to give our citizens incentive to go back to work and by continuing to be of the mindset that everyone is in need it is hurting our local businesses.”
Roberts added that there are a wide variety of jobs available including jobs that require very little training or jobs where employers offer training for new hires.
Congressman Neal Dunn, R-Panama City, came out strongly against the unemployment benefit earlier this month in an interview with News 13.
“This is the worst thing that happened in the last bill,” Dunn said. “So what we did is we incentivize people to be unemployed. We didn’t take care of people who were unemployed, we incentivize people to become unemployed. That is never a good idea.”
However, having people come to work is only part of the issue employers face.
Kyle Shoots, the president and co-owner of System Service and Engineering Inc., said his employees are working hard but have to deal with multiple abnormal issues just to do their normal jobs. Shoots’ company offers electrical, plumbing air conditioning and design work to commercial customers.
“I would say there is a fair amount of concern that people are going to get sick,” Shoots said. Then they have to deal with customers who have wildly different reactions to the pandemic.
“You can have someone who doesn’t care,” Shoots said. “Or you could have someone who wants you in a Hazmat suit.”
Shoots said he is constantly recruiting new employees and has noticed that some may not come back to the workforce as long as the unemployment benefit exists.
And while some have suggested that a money issue Shoots sees something deeper.
“It’s a culture issue,” Shoots said. “We have a major culture issue.”
A skilled tradesman will make more than the unemployment benefit but they may also decide that the unemployment benefit is enough money to make it, so they choose instead to stay home.
Meanwhile, there may be many people who are choosing to stay home for fear of catching coronavirus.
“There’s got to be a system where we can sort through and identify … those who are truly in need,” Roberts said.
She added that after Hurricane Michael salaries in Bay County were on an upward trend as business struggled to find and retain workers.
“I think that you’ll find most employers are really in these times jumping through hoops to assure the health and safety of their employees and providing a safe working environment and in order to do that that comes out of the overhead to operate that business,” Roberts said. “But salaries are becoming more and more competitive in Bay County.”
Also, while other parts of the country may be facing tough times business in Bay County is up.
“Construction has not slowed down,” Shoots said.