Business leaders search for a way forward

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Three local leaders are helping Gov. Ron DeSantis make decisions on when and where to reopen the state during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, is on the executive committee. Joey D’Isernia, the president of Eastern Shipbuilding, is on a working group dealing with manufacturing, utilities and information & technology. And, Cody Kahn, the owner of Holiday Inn Resort, is on a working group dealing with tourism, recreation and retail. 

Eastern Shipbuilding has a billion dollar contract with the federal government to build Coast Guard Cutters. The company’s employees have continued to work while also dealing with Hurricane Michael and the pandemic. Manufacturing and those building national defense assets were exempt from the shutdown, D’Isernia said. 

However, the pandemic has been costly because of Eastern has to cover paid leave and they have spent “enormous amounts of money” on preventative measures and personal protective equipment. 

D’Isernia said once they met the basic guidelines provided by the CDC and OSHA they asked themselves what else they should do. 

“If I was an employee out in the yard what would I want my employer to do?” he said. “We wanted to ensure there is an extra level of protection for our employees.”

Some of the restrictions include requiring all employees to wear masks while at work and temperature checks for every employee entering the gates.

“Our employees are our number one and most valuable asset. Without them we can’t do what we do,” D’Isernia said. “We had this same philosophy after the hurricane. If we can take care of our employees they are going to take care of us.” 

D’Isernia said he was honored to be on the task force and said he was happy to share what Eastern was doing in the hopes that it could help state leaders and other manufactures weather the pandemic. 

“I can let them know how it’s affected us. What works, what doesn’t work and what challenges I see in my business,” he said. “Who knows they might be able to utilize that feedback in other areas of the economy.” 

He added that he believed everyone wanted the same thing, to protect people while also getting the country going again. 

“We would like for life to get back to normal sooner, rather than later, but we also want to keep our friends and family safe.”

Meanwhile, Patronis said the state is looking at billions in losses.

“Hotels alone have lost 30 billion in sales,” he said, adding that 70 percent of the state’s revenue comes from tourism and hospitality.

Last year 127 million tourists visited Florida.

“Its gonna be several years before we see anything like that again,” Patronis said.

What it will take, he added, is a smart plan that reopens the state safely and helps consumer confidence.

“We’re going to have to go above and beyond earning that consumer confidence back so when they come to the State of Florida it’s a safe place to dine out, it’s a safe place to go to an amusement park, it’s a safe place to stay overnight,” Patronis said.

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