Minnesota’s largest business groups are giving broad support to Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home executive order, calling it a measured approach that keeps key industries functioning while curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
At the same time, they want government leaders to remain flexible on the definition of “essential” business because needs may change in coming weeks. In announcing the stay-at-home order Wednesday afternoon, Walz urged more businesses to close but gave exemptions to many.
“Anytime you create an exhaustive list like this there’s going to be pieces of the business supply chain that will not be recognized and should have been considered,” Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President Doug Loon said.
Walz’s two-week “stay-at-home” order begins at 11:59 p.m. Friday. It asks Minnesotans to stay in their homes unless absolutely necessary, after models suggest that the state will run out of hospital intensive-care capacity before infection rates of the coronavirus peak.
Only businesses working in critical sectors will be able to remain open, but the definition is fairly broad. It includes health care workers, emergency responders, law enforcement, shelters and child care as well as construction, food production, utilities, the news media and critical manufacturing.
About 78% of jobs in the state fall into one of the critical industries, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
“Leading up to this there was a great deal of uncertainty about what would be included in the definition of essential services of what would be included,” Loon said. “This brings a level of certainty about short-term impacts on the economy.”
Charlie Weaver, who leads the Minnesota Business Partnership, an association of top executives, said in a statement that the order “allows our state to effectively confront this public health threat while ensuring key sectors of our economy continue to function.”
Minnesota officials have set up a website with a form to help businesses determine whether they are deemed essential and to consider exemptions for companies that believe their work should not have been excluded.
DEED is evaluating inquiries and will get back to businesses within 24 hours, Commissioner Steve Grove said Thursday.
“It’s really important to us that businesses feel taken care of, feel that they’re getting responses quickly, and understand this order and what it means for them,” Grove said.
“For many businesses it’s not either/or,” he said. “Some businesses have some workers that are critical and some workers who are not. There may be some nuance there that each business needs to get guidance on.”
Noncritical businesses that continue operating risk being charged with a willful violation, a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
Bars and restaurants, already ordered closed, will remain shuttered through May 1, according to the new order.
Businesses and manufacturers are retooling to adapt to changing needs of the marketplace, blurring the lines for what is critical. Business groups lobbied Minnesota lawmakers for a broad interpretation.
This means that specialty fabric stores that sell material used to make masks could remain open. Also covered are companies that have retooled, such as MyPillow, which has dedicated 75% of its production to supply health care workers with face masks.
“There’s a lot of ripple effects,” said the Chamber of Commerce’s Loon. “We’ve got to make sure the exemptions for essential services are dynamic so those critically important new suppliers are accommodated.”
Plunkett’s Pest Control owner Stacy O’Reilly said her company will still be available to get that raccoon out of your attic or the bat that flew down the chimney.
Hardware and paint stores will stay open, as many also serve as suppliers to contractors and those in the construction trade, which are considered essential.
“We’re quite cognizant that change can come at any time with very short notice,” said Jeff Lien, marketing manager for Hirshfield’s Inc., which no longer allows anyone but employees inside its 32 stores.
The retailer now uses curbside delivery or has customers and contractors wait at the door to pick up items ordered on the phone or online.
Demand for paint, which makes up the bulk of Hirshfield’s overall sales, has gotten an unanticipated uptick.
“People are in lockdown, and I think it’s comforting to keep busy,” said Michelle Picha, a 26-year veteran of Hirschfield’s who works at the Edina store. “We haven’t been this busy in years.”
Business owners, executives and workers with questions can find information on DEED’s website at mn.gov/deed/critical/.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335