As Chicago and the state gets set to move into phase 4 of its reopening plan, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce released a 26-page report outlining what it believes is essential for businesses to recover.
The report, released Friday by the chamber’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force, offers several recommendations for both small and large businesses. Many of the recommendations were deemed essential. The report also noted that along with the pandemic, the renewed calls for racial equality sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is another “seismic shift” businesses are grappling with. With its report, the chamber is calling on businesses to pledge to buy locally, hire locally, invest locally and listen and learn.
“The coronavirus has completely altered the way we live and work. We hear and talk a lot about ‘the new normal,’ but no one really knows what that will be. As business leaders, it is our responsibility to define that new normal,” said Bruce Lubin, vice chairman of CIBC US, who also serves as Chairman of the chamber. “This report establishes the conditions needed to do that.”
Of the first three pledge items in the report, the chamber is particularly focused on helping minorities, women, disadvantaged business enterprises and small business, which it says makes up the backbone of Chicago’s regional supply chain. It also advises businesses to partner with community organizations to facilitate investment in disadvantaged communities and to facilitate and promote conversations within companies about structural inequalities related to economic opportunity, health care, education and transportation.
At the top of the report’s list of essentials are communication issues — specifically clear guidance for testing, contract tracing, managing hot spots and accessing PPE. The report urges businesses to push for specific timelines as more employees to back to work; the creation of public-private partnerships to scale up contact tracing; the creation of partnerships with local hospitals; the request that large companies help small companies acquire low-cost PPE and that those businesses get PPE from the Chicago market.
The task force also recommends that business help schools acquire computer equipment for students who need to self-isolate; the reduction of regulatory burdens for companies to establish onsite childcare centers; and for businesses to review the best practices for mitigating their liability exposure as more employees return to the workplace.
Regarding liability related to Covid-19, the report states that “state and local statues should be amended to provide businesses the protections they need to operate without the constant fear of opportunistic lawsuits.” It cited the example of Gov. JB Pritzker providing health care workers some level of protection by providing legal immunity but also noted that protections should not be extended in cases of malfeasance, negligence or wrongful acts.
Additionally, the report encourages promoting wellness and mental health programs in the business community; advocates for moderation at O’Hare International Airport; and calls for members to push the city to accelerate zoning and planning approval for major projects like the 78, the Obama Presidential Center, ONE Central, Lincoln Yards and the development of the Michael Reese Hospital site.
The report also calls for greater flexibility with employees, calling on businesses to be patient with employees who are reluctant to return to the office and to make “reasonable accommodations” whenever feasible. It also advises employers to stagger start times to eliminate dangerous rush-hour crowding on public transportation and pays special attention to small business and minority-owned businesses, which have made a disproportionate amount of calls to the chamber seeking assistance, consistent with the impact of Covid-19 on communities of color, according to the report.
“Supporting minority, women-owned and disadvantaged businesses, especially within the small business community, is critical to the region’s economic recovery,” the report stated.
The chamber’s task force was formed “to organize the best practices and industry priorities to get people back to work as quickly as possible and accelerate our economic recovery, while simultaneously prioritizing issues of safety, trust, and equity,” said chamber President and CEO Jack Lavin in a release. “It is our hope that the principles we’ve established will serve as useful guideposts to deliver on this pledge for our world-class city.”
In addition to the report, the chamber also plans to create a webinar series this summer called “Getting to Phase Five.”
The Chamber’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force represents a cross-section of Chicagoland’s business community and is chaired by Robin Brown, vice president of government affairs and external relations of Ingredion Incorporated; Joe Dominguez, CEO of ComEd; and Lubin.