Northeast Florida business leaders share their reactions, concerns to COVID-19 shutdown.
The business impact on Northeast Florida and the U.S. was immediate as state and federal officials moved to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Business leaders share their stories as they face the uncertainty of a shutdown with an unknown timeframe.
Real estate markets will slow down, bounce back
Mike Balanky | CEO | Chase Properties
Real estate developer and Chase Properties CEO Mike Balanky believes any slowdown in the residential and commercial real estate markets because of the new coronavirus will be temporary.
“I think they’ll slow down then bounce back once we get a grip on the virus, much like the stock market,” he said.
The 275-acre joint Chase Properties-D.R. Horton project in St. Johns County is under construction. Balanky expects projects that have broken ground could be impacted by virus-induced personnel shortages, but he hasn’t been notified of any.
“It’s a force majeure issue here. It’s an act of God,” he said. “We need to come together and work in good faith.”
Balanky anticipates contractors and crews might stay home with their children as area school districts remain closed. Some workers might want to avoid job sites because of exposure risks.
“I’m going to let the contractors go at the pace they need to go. In my opinion, they need to do what they think is right for the safety of themselves and their families.”
Developments subject to the government regulatory process are stalled. A proposed land swap between the city and Chase Properties at Goodbys Creek Preserve will sit idle until public meetings are scheduled to resume April 6.
A new restaurant faces plummeting sales
Matt Joseph | Owner | Southern Coast Seafood
Southern Coast Seafood had barely been open a month when the coronavirus arrived in Duval County.
Now, its owners are seeing declines after a strong first month in business.
Matt Joseph, one of the owners, said the restaurant was “firing on all cylinders” up until last weekend when sales dropped.
“Honestly it kind of sucks, I was waiting to get to that one month point to start feeling out my operational costs and all that. Now all this happens. I have to start all over,” he said.
Sales were down 50% on March 15, 35% March 14 and 20% on March 13. He said many of those who did come to the Monument Road restaurant had hand sanitizer on the table.
He’s implemented more stringent, frequent sanitizing policies in the restaurant, and offered curbside pickup to continue to bring in business. Joseph said he’s also worried about paying his staff’s salaries.
“I’m worried about this week,” Joseph said. “I don’t even know if it’s going to be worth it if we’re just breaking even … You have to keep people making money and my employees matter to me. If we are breaking even and I’m putting money in their pocket then it would be worth it to us.”
Working to bring stability amid uncertainty
Carlton Robinson | Vice President of Entrepreneurial Growth | JAX Chamber
Carlton Robinson, JAX Chamber vice president of entrepreneurial growth, said despite many of the Chamber’s employees working remotely, the Entrepreneurial Growth division team has been able to assist entrepreneurs and small businesses.
The biggest issue he’s heard from business owners is the uncertainty of the situation, and when they’ll be able to get back to business as usual.
“The uncertainty is going to impact revenue generation for the businesses,” he said.
“It’ll impact capacity as we learn how to work in this environment. We’ll need to look at how the chamber can provide stability in this time of uncertainty.”
Robinson said he has been communicating with small business owners to direct them to resources that might be able to help, such as the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program announced March 17.
“The chamber has been a source to refer people to the right information,” he said.
He said before the outbreak, the chamber was working to offer Jax Bridges programming virtually. The program is designed to help small business owners grow their companies.
Robinson is scheduling sessions with participants, in addition to creating on-demand sessions for entrepreneurs to watch at their convenience.
Clients urged to operate their businesses in as “ordinary course” as possible
Robert A. Heekin, Jr. | Partner | Thames Markey & Heekin, P.A.
While it remains unclear how this pandemic will impact our national economy, the potential effects of social isolation merit some reflection on the 2007-08 housing crisis, which affected every sector tied to construction - subcontractors, manufacturers, brokers, Realtors and retail. That, in turn, led to a lengthy recovery for businesses.
With COVID-19, we do not yet know how long large-scale social interaction will need to be curtailed.
If quarantines last for more than two months, the financial impact could mirror the housing crisis and require the reorganization of businesses’ financial obligations.
Just as the abrupt halt in housing sales impacted those “down the line,” the mandate that the country not gather “en masse” impacts wide swaths of society.
Stadiums, arenas and theaters going dark directly impact everything from retail to restaurants, bars and other ancillary industries.
At present, we are counseling patience and not panic. Heed the recommendations of professionals, particularly those in the medical field.
We recommend clients continue to operate their businesses in as “ordinary course” as possible, telecommuting if needed.
If financial stress impacts business operations, seek immediate legal counsel from professionals who understand the bankruptcy system and the benefits that can flow from restructuring or reorganization.
Karen Brune Mathis