The Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce is asking its business members to take a survey about Gov. Janet Mills’ plan to phase the opening of businesses in the face of a pandemic. Meanwhile, the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce has sent a letter to Mills, outlining an alternative plan. And in Bar Harbor, the chamber of commerce there has sent a biting letter to the Governor’s office. All of them are concerned about the methodology that Gov. Mills has outlined in her April 28 plan to restart Maine’s economy.
The three chambers represent the coastal Maine economy, that depends greatly on the tourism industry.
“We read with great interest the current details of the 4-Stage Pan to reopen Maine’s economy, and while we support the concept of a staged reopening, we are compelled to speak out in opposition to aspects of this plan that will lead to dire economic outcomes for many businesses in our beloved Camden-Rockland region and across the state,” wrote chamber President Tom Peaco and chamber Board Chairman Garry Schwall, in an April 30 letter to Gov. Mills.
In Belfast, a letter was sent to its chamber members, asking them to take the 16-question survey, and with a deadline of May 6.
“In order to take the survey, it’s important you familiarize yourself with the plan that was presented,” the chamber wrote, in its letter to members. “It’s a tiered re-opening with specific businesses in different stages. It calls for Stage 1 businesses to open May 1 which are the businesses that are currently open and a handful of others. Stage 2 is estimated to happen around June 1 with more industry sectors being open and Stage 3 is estimated to open around July 1 with a variety of more businesses and last through August. All other businesses are Stage 4 businesses and a timeline has not been set for their re-opening. All dates for stage openings will rely on the health data (the spread of the virus) and are subject to change.”
The letter continued: “Note: Some aspects of the plan presented left out key information, so know that alterations to the plan are already underway, The State is trying to be as responsive as possible in making a plan that works for the most Mainers while also keeping us, and our healthcare system, safe from the devastating effects of COVID-19.
“This survey will be used to determine areas of improvement for the plan - your feedback is necessary. Keep in mind with all answers and suggestions, that health and safety is the primary concern and will remain so. However, your feedback can go a long way in identifying ways that we can maintain proper health levels, while also finding solutions that keeps Maine’s economy working. Constructive feedback will be key in understanding how this situation affects you.
“The results of the survey will be aggregated by region and industry and a report will be produced for DECD to review before deciding on implementation. Some regional and local chambers, business associations and CVBs (convention and visitor’s bureaus) will utilize these results to have industry-specific Zoom calls with business leaders to see if we can outline best practices for specific industries on how they can open safely.”
This survey was put together by the Maine Maine Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and all member chambers were asked to participate. Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber members were also asked to participate in the survey, an invitation that was circulated May 1 via the chamber’s newsletter, and through its Facebook page.
In Camden and Rockland, the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce also took an expanded tack. On April 30, that chamber sent its letter, asking the Governor to short the length of the stages outlined in that state’s current plan.
The chamber thanked Gov. Mills for her leadership: “during these trying times for our state. You and your team have a very unenviable task of navigating these unprecedented waters. We love our state and want the best for it, which has prompted us to write today.”
The Pen Bay chamber, while supporting the concept of a staged economy reopening, offered its own outlined plan.
“First, we call on you to shorten the length of the stages outlined in your plan. Specifically, we recommend that the first two stages each last three weeks in duration, and that the third stage last for six weeks in duration, assuming continued favorable health trends.
“Ending Stage 1 and the Stay at Home Order on May 21 would allow lodging properties, restaurants, retailers and other Stage 2 businesses to open for Memorial Day weekend.
“Ending Stage 2 on June 22, another three-week stage, and then transitioning to Stage 3 would allow our local fleet of sailing and motor vessels to welcome guests in mid-June, along with other businesses permitted in that phase.
“Regarding Stage 3, we urge you to consider a six-week period ending July 23, again assuming favorable health trends.
“Additionally, we strongly encourage you to lift the requirement for a 14-day quarantine for nonresidents during Stage 3, and instead consider other options for allowing healthy nonresidents to patronize our businesses.”
The letter ended with an invitation to “partner with you and your team to find a workable common ground that prioritizes the health of Maine people while providing a glimmer of hope for struggling Maine businesses and their employees.”
And in Bar Harbor, the sentiment was not as gently diplomatic.
“The prepared plan announced yesterday by the Mills Administration proposed a new normal – ‘a different way of doing business, shopping, traveling and recreating that keeps us all safe.’ Under the new restrictions, the Bar Harbor chamber fears the financial impact to local businesses, families and employees will have a devastating outcome.”
The Bar Harbor chamber asked the Governor to reconsider the restrictions.
"We are disappointed with the Governor's proposed phases for reopening the economy,” the letter continued. “The financial impact will deliver a catastrophic blow to many small businesses, families, and employees that depend on hosting visitors. The idea that we could survive until 2021 on a partial and limited season is unsustainable, as there are no other opportunities. The small businesses of Bar Harbor, and the State of Maine, deserve the chance to provide a safe visitor experience that will give us the opportunity to survive. We strongly encourage the Governor to reconsider the heavy restrictions placed on hospitality for the 2020 season.”