At a business roundtable discussion held in Helena on July 20, state Auditor Matt Rosendale spoke with members of Montana’s business community from a broad array of industries, including construction, agriculture, retail, guided tourism, and healthcare.

The discussion centered on hearing participants unique perspectives on the impact that COVID-19 has had on their respective businesses and discussing ways to get our economy moving again.

“I am incredibly thankful that these folks took time out of their busy schedules to share their unique perspectives on how COVID-19 has impacted them and other small businesses in their industry,” said Rosendale. “I know things are not easy for business owners or their employees right now, and I will do everything I can to advocate for pro-business policies, help get our economy back on track, and keep our economy open.”

The topics of the meeting ranged from burdensome loan forgiveness paperwork for small businesses who received PPP loans, to concerns of supply chain disruptions from members of the agriculture industry, business liability protections, and the workforce challenges facing many businesses.

Todd O’Hair, executive director of the Montana Chamber of Commerce, said he believes the impacts of the shutdown will be lingering for the economy, and lawmakers need to take a long-term view of dealing with the economic fallout.

“This is going to be a slow burn in terms of its impact on our economy,” said O’Hair. “We need to take a long-term view of this until we get some certainty, particularly in the health arena, because what we are seeing is a population that is extremely concerned about contracting COVID-19 and they aren’t going to go about their daily lives until they feel that they aren’t going to contract COVID.

“Whether it’s a vaccine or a remedy for COVID, we are going to have to get it out as quickly and effectively as possible, because until we can bring some certainty back into our economy, it just isn’t going to get going again,” O’Hair continued. “I think there are businesses today that have survived the Phase 1 shutdown, but they are terrified of another shutdown, and don’t know if they will be able to make it another six months or a year.”

Collectively, all attendees expressed the need for businesses to be shielded from the potential liabilities associated with trying to remain open during the pandemic, stating that the risks are incredibly high for small businesses. Participants also voiced a desire to eliminate supplementary welfare payments that have incentivized many small business employees to remain at home.

“So many of our members are striving to adhere to every possible precaution to protect their customers and employees and are still finding it incredibly difficult both to get their employees to come back to work, and to carry on with their business when the liability is so high,” said Mac Minard, executive director of the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association. “At the end of the day, businesses need certainty and we feel that there has been an incredible lack of clear communication on that front.

“Moving forward we really need folks who will work to get business moving again, communicate clearly with the business community, and restore consumer confidence, because a failure to do so will spell out disaster for our economy” Minard said.

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