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May 5, 2020

Maine chambers gather business input on safely reopening state's economy

Photo / Maureen Milliken The state's chambers of commerce are asking businesses for input on how to best reopen after the state released a four-stage plan last week.

Chambers of commerce across Maine are seeking input from members about the state's four-phase plan to reopen the economy, with the aim of helping adjust the plan and guiding specific industries on opening safely.

The plan, announced last week, has sparked questions and controversy as the effects of the nearly two-month shutdown continue to be keenly felt.

Responses to the Restarting Maine's Economy survey, by the Maine Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, will be given to the state Department of Economic and Community Development to help as the reopening plan evolves. It will also be used for industry-specific guidance on reopening, the survey introduction says.

The poll asks business owners if they're satisfied with how their business fits into the plan, announced by Gov. Janet Mills April 28, as well as what they think of the plan in general. By Tuesday morning, there were 1,135 responses to the survey, said Deb Neuman, executive director of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce.

"Many of us intended to survey our members to gather their thoughts and opinions about the governor's plan to reopen Maine's economy," Neuman told Mainebiz. "We decided as a group, it would be more productive and impactful to create one survey and gather the info from businesses across the state."

Chambers have shared the survey with members as well as other businesses and organizations in the communities that they serve, she said.

Those responding have until Wednesday to answer the 20 questions. The message sent out by chambers asks those responding to familiarize themselves with the plan first, which most attached in a newsletter or email. The MACCE represents 61 chambers from Kittery to Fort Kent, as well as HospitalityMaine, the Maine Tourism Association and the Retail Association of Maine.

Adjusting plan, industry-specific ideas

"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," the message to chamber members that accompanied the survey said.

The survey will be used to determine ways the plan can be improved, "So feedback is necessary," the introduction said. "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," it said.

Chambers are also telling members that some aspects of the plan, as presented, left out key information and that alterations are already underway. 

The results of the survey will be aggregated by region and industry and a report will be produced for the state DECD to review before deciding on implementation.

Some regional and local chambers, business associations and convention and visitor bureaus will also use the results to have industry-specific Zoom calls with business leaders, with the aim of outlining best practices for specific industries on how they can open safely.

Staged opening plan

The DECD is also soliciting opinions from businesses owners and others across Maine. The department is accepting comments and suggestions on the reopening, with an online form on its website.

The opening plan calls for a staged opening, eliminating the essential and nonessential business labels. It's based on how the state's effort to combat the spread of COVID-19 is working. Dates for openings are estimates, and will be adjusted as data shows trends toward success or setbacks with the effort, state officials said.

The state has a Restarting Maine's Economy webpage explaing the stages, health metrics and more. Businesses that believe they should be allowed to open can also fill out an appeal, with information provided in the DECD website.

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