Last week we looked back at the first two months of our 2020 half-year review. It’s interesting to recall that there was a time, pre-COVID, that we had all of these other plans that have since gone unrealized. This week we’ll dive into March which was the month when everything shifted as COVID-19 went from something very abstract to something omnipresent. We will also look at some of the good work done in April that you may have missed. Good work should be recognized and many groups have done so much to help those around us. Next week we’ll finish our review with a look at May, June and what the second half of 2020 looks like.

March 2020

One of the last mass gatherings of 2020 was our chambers’ Annual Awards Night which happened on the evening of March 6. We recognized the fine work and contributions of eight local business leaders, introduced the 2020 Cornerstone Members, and welcomed our first Student Board Member, Micaela Simeone, a Bowdoin student who the board had approved about a week earlier. The entire event was deliciously catered by Cook’s Lobster & Ale House and happened at St. John’s Community Center.

That next week everything changed.

March 12, Maine had its first presumptive case of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. March 12, the Maine Bicentennial celebration (scheduled for March 15 in Augusta) is postponed March 15, the Governor declares a Civil State of Emergency recommending the ending of classroom instruction in schools, postponement of elective medical procedures, restricting non-essential healthcare visitors to long-term care facilities, and postponing gatherings of more than 50 people. March 16, the Governor calls for statewide cancellation of St. Patrick’s Day events March 18, an Executive Order closes dine-in options for bars and restaurants March 24, all non-essential businesses are ordered to close

And that was it. In two and a half weeks, we went from a gathering of over 150 business leaders at our SMMC Annual Awards Dinner, to all non-essential businesses closed, St. Patrick’s Day cancelled, Maine’s 200th cancelled and we were living in a Civil State of Emergency.

Yet, many groups and organizations didn’t falter. We took the proverbial punch, got up off the mat, and got back to work, adjusting our plans to meet the needs of those around us. The Brunswick Downtown Association unveiled Operation Pickup, just days after dine-in options were closed so citizens knew what restaurants were open and when. Our Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber developed a COVID-19 Community Resource Page on our website to be a clearinghouse of information on: emergency orders, Paycheck Protection Program resources, Unemployment resources, and promotion of other programs helping local businesses and employees. We also created a Facebook group so businesses could post their own promotions to the public. United Way of Midcoast Maine launched COVID-19 Urgent Needs Fund. Several citizens launched a new Facebook group called Support Brunswick with daily posts from citizens on ways to help. Brunswick Development Corporation created business grants for businesses. Main Street Bath created shareable business documents to highlight Bath business news.

March Takeaway: There is a very distinct timeline for me personally, as my brother and I surprised my Mom for her 70th birthday on March 17 in FL. I flew out the day before and returned the day after. When I left, and even on the flight down, people were cautious but not particularly attentive to the COVID-19 issue. On the flight home two days later, everyone was very cautious. I won’t forget how surreal the attitude shift was in such a short amount of time. I had already planned to self-quarantine for two weeks when I got home – I didn’t expect I’d be working from home for the next two months.

April

April kicked off with the Paycheck Protection Program and the other Small Business Administration loans as businesses struggled to apply. Lenders did incredible work in taking a brand-new program and implementing it, with remote workers, over about 10 days. There were bumps along the way, and the money dried up fast. That led businesses to explore disaster loans and other financing options or just laying off employees.

This time was marked by the chamber getting to help many businesses in locating the information needed, or at the very least trying to. By the time some businesses reached out certain funds were gone, but we were proud to help as many businesses as we did with our postings, Zoom events and online videos.

April Takeaways: April was centered almost entirely around businesses trying to stem the financial losses and figure out the best outcome for their employees. It’d be disingenuous not to mention the intense frustration for businesses who didn’t qualify for funding, or who didn’t apply in time. It’s no fault of the lenders who were doing their best with intense workloads and federal guidance changing almost daily. However, there was a sharp spike in unemployment. This had a lot to do with these delays. Each day that a business had to wait to confirm if they received funding or not, it got exponentially more difficult to tell their employees to wait and see. After a few days, many business owners couldn’t wait and furloughed workers for their benefit so they knew they would have income. No doubt if the federal government could have rolled this out more smoothly, and businesses could have received funds in a more timely fashion, unemployment may not have spiked as it did.

May, June and the Second Half of 2020

In our final installment next week we’ll look at May, June and some predictions for the remainder of 2020. May becomes a tense month, when the Governor unveils a re-opening plan that tries to balance the need for economic resurgence while protecting public health. June sees re-opening expanding in Maine, as we try to determine if the re-opening plan worked or not.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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