The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, in collaboration with the Teton County Emergency Management Plan, launched an Economic Recovery Task Force to help Teton County recuperate from the COVID-19 crisis and mitigate losses.
“What will a return to work look like? That is the question weighing heavily on the minds of government leaders and public health officials, employers and their employees, and Jackson Hole families striving for the delicate balance of staying safe and making ends meet,” chamber Vice President Rick Howe said in a press release.
The task force is made up of more than two-dozen people, including business owners and executives, elected officials, a doctor, and national park employees. They will look at short- and long-term actions as Jackson exits the stay-at-home period. The timeline will include active efforts through December.
“Planning for this needs to begin now,” Howe said.
The question of when and how Jackson Hole’s business community can pull out of the pandemic shutdown and return to normal also came up at last week’s Business Over Breakfast, which this time was a virtual event.
It’s too soon to say, according to the speakers at the event.
“We do here at the chamber feel like we are still in the urgent phase,” said Anna Olson, president and CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the monthly breakfast meetings.
In a tourist economy like Jackson’s, she said, getting going again “is not going to be a quick single switchback.” Between geography, fear and reality, and the different types of businesses, “it’s going to be complicated,” she said.
Along with Olson the other speakers were state Sens. Mike Gierau, Dan Dockstader and Jim Roscoe and state Reps. Andy Schwartz and Michael Yin. Several of them mentioned testing as key to how the future unfolds.
“As we come out of this, testing is going to be the big enchilada,” Gierau said. “Getting all of our employees tested so people have confidence when they come into our businesses.”
Another challenge: figuring out how to keep employees and customers safe from other customers who are sick.
“We can do everything we that can do as business owners to make our environment as safe as possible, and the first customer that walks in with a 104-degree temperature and sneezes all over the room can blow the whole ballgame,” Gierau said.
The state can help, he said, but “we’re going to have to help ourselves to come up with plans to get open at the right time.”
Yin said there’s a need for more data.
“One of the biggest things we need to know is: Are you granted immunity? If you get sick and you recover and you have the antibodies in your system does that make you immune or does the virus mutate to where you still don’t get immunity, which would be very bad, because that would mean there would be waves of disease that could go through people who already had it.”
Gierau, as owner of Jedediah’s, commiserated with business owners.
“My business went down 95% in four days,” he said. “I share your pain on that one. I too spend most of my time working with my banker and working with every other program I can to try to keep my business solvent.”
Schwartz, who was a downtown businessman for 30 years, said, “Until we have a better understanding of what the public health issues are it’s kind of hard to project how we deal with this from a business and economic perspective.”
A big question that looms, he said, is how people will respond to the idea of traveling this summer.
“I think this is a conversation the chamber is probably going to have to take a lead on: How we are preparing ourselves to make visitors feel comfortable coming here? … That’s going to take a lot of work. It’s a community conversation we need to have.”