OAKLAND — The coronavirus is hitting Maine hard. Our state has been exposed to hundreds of cases, as the pandemic spreads and testing accelerates.

This public health crisis is affecting Mainers on a most personal level. But the pandemic’s economic impact cannot be understated, either.

From hotels to restaurants and small businesses across the state, job loss is a very real concern. Business closures are a very real concern. Recently, the stock price of publicly traded companies based in Maine fell to a 52-week low. At the same time, retailers such as L.L. Bean, Bull Moose Music and Springer’s Jewelers decided to shutter their stores for the time being to “flatten the curve.” This is happening everywhere.

While public health is of the utmost concern right now, for the sake of our economy, business must still go on. Perhaps it may not go on “as usual,” but we should work together and work smart to keep as many businesses open as possible, while supporting local businesses that have put practices in place to avoid physical interactions as much as possible.

Maine’s economy depends on our collective resilience. The state’s economic output comes out to about $65 billion annually. Our state is home to nearly 540,000 private-sector employees. Most of them work for small businesses, which account for 99 percent of all businesses in the state. This is all at risk. 

Fortunately, there are ways to focus on public health without unnecessarily compromising the health of our economy. On an individual level, we all need to take personal hygiene seriously. From washing our hands regularly to wiping down surfaces, Mainers can do their part to contain the spread of the coronavirus. In March, we at FirstPark held our annual meeting outside and representatives from our 24 communities practiced social distancing. We must remain resilient. 

Then there’s the big picture for the business community. It’s up to our business leaders to instill confidence in their employees, customers and clients. Do that, and they can instill confidence in the broader economy.

The best place to start is by elevating workplace culture. Businesses can make their employees feel comfortable and support working from home. Fortunately, technological innovation allows us to conduct business without having face-to-face interactions. Teleconferencing can replace business meetings and other in-person contact, at least for the time being. For example, at FirstPark, our clients are using high-speed fiber internet to communicate with the outside world – and they haven’t missed a beat. 

At the same time, businesses need to communicate with their customers and clients on a regular basis, explaining all of the precautions being taken to prevent the spread of germs. Sending out email newsletters or posting signage goes a long way. The general public needs to know that public health matters just as much as the bottom line does. This leads to higher consumer confidence and, ultimately, greater economic activity. Businesses at FirstPark, such as T-Mobile, are also currently hiring to grow their workforce.

Remember: We are all in this together. While business may not be conducted “as usual” these days, we still need to do business and support one another. This is especially true for small business, which forms the backbone of Maine’s economy.

Let’s all stay healthy. But let’s also foster a healthy business climate – now and always.


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