Business Listening Sessions aim to pass on information to state officials in North Dakota
Emergency financing and what to do with perishable inventory are only some of the questions local restaurant owners are asking, and civic and business leaders said they are taking down those concerns and will present them to state and federal leadership.
Grand Forks City Council member Bret Weber, who hosted a virtual meeting to hear concerns from those in the food industry, said it is necessary to put together a list of answers that can be taken to state officials for action. What those answers are, or should be, still remain to be worked out, as the situation surrounding coronavirus continues to unfold.
The virtual meeting, held on Monday, March 23, was organized by the city, the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation and Downtown Development Association. The meeting, dubbed a Business Listening Session, was the first in a series of meetings for people involved in different areas of business to talk about their needs and put forth answers to their problems.
Monday’s meeting focused specifically on restaurants, bars and supermarkets and had an “attendance” of more than 100 people.
“We currently have about $3,000 of kegs tapped that we fear no one will want to drink at reopen,” submitted Rachel Franz, co-owner of downtown restaurant Ely’s Ivy, who also asked about the possibility of the city temporarily allowing establishments like hers to offer off-sale alcoholic beverages.
Barry Wilfahrt, Chamber president and CEO, implored Mayor Mike Brown, who participated in the meeting, to seek out all avenues allowed under law to help restaurants reduce their perishable inventories.
Financing was another topic that multiple participants commented on, asking what financial assistance was available, as rent and fixed expenses are difficult to cover for so many shuttered businesses.
Keith Lund, Grand Forks Region EDC president and CEO, said he has been having conversations with officials at the North Dakota Department of Commerce, who are urging businesses to contact their local lenders.
“Their advice is to work with your local lender first, and I've been asked to inject that in the conversation,” said Lund, one of the panelists at the listening session. “Your local lender knows you, understands your business needs … and is in the best position to respond rapidly to your needs.”
Concerns were raised about how senior citizens in the region are getting food deliveries, as turn around on some grocery delivery services, such as at Hugo’s Family Marketplace, have been slow, due to the strain placed on them.
One possible answer that was floated around was to allow restaurants to use commercial kitchens to prepare senior meals, should cooks become sick -- a possible rare opportunity for a business to change its model, according to Weber.
Naturally, the topic of how to use the Legacy Fund to support businesses and people came up, though any action on that would have to come from the state. Mark Schill, vice president for research at Praxis Strategy Group, said it is critical that business owners let Gov. Doug Burgum and state legislators know how they feel about using Legacy funds.
Wilfahrt said he is certain the Legacy Fund would be discussed at the state level.
“This is one of those times that if there's a rainy day, this is probably the rainy day from a legacy fund perspective,” Wilfahrt said.
City Council member Dana Sande also cautioned against spreading rumors, citing false reports he has encountered on Facebook, to which Weber added that “false information can be really damaging” and lead to panic buying.
Panic buying causes a drain on supplies that people in need may not be able to get, according to Weber.
Listening sessions will be held this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 3 to 4 p.m. and will address the areas of retail, manufacturing and professional services respectively.
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