As Long Island reaches Phase 1 of reopening the economy, a team of six appointed officials across Long Island is responsible for monitoring key health metrics to make certain there’s not a significant spike in COVID-19 cases.
Joining both county executives and other local leaders on the team is Kevin Law, CEO and president of Long Island Association, the region’s largest business group. Mr. Law, who previously served as president and CEO of Long Island Power Authority, said he has been an advocate for small businesses in what has been dubbed by Governor Andrew Cuomo as the Long Island Regional Control Room.
“I believe more businesses should be allowed to open now,” he told us in an interview last Thursday, two days before the governor first said Long Island might begin to reopen Wednesday. On Tuesday, the governor made the reopening official.
Here’s what Mr. Law had to say about the control room, the shutdown and what the future might hold for reopening and its impact on small business.
Q: Aside from assuring all seven metrics for reopening are met, what is the purpose of the control room?
A: The reopening is going to be done in four phases and so we have to start with Phase 1. It’s envisioned the next phase to allow more businesses to reopen would be Phase 2. [There will] be approximately two weeks in between the phases. We need to make sure that the metrics are still being met and that there’s not a spike. That’s the concept of these regional control rooms. We just need to make sure the metrics aren’t spiking so high that we fall out of compliance.
Q: With businesses being closed for two months now there’s so much frustration built up, almost a resentment [among some small business owners]. How much is your group hearing about this, not just impatience, but real bitterness?
A: Every day. And I hear it from family members and from my neighbors. And I hear it from colleagues. Every day, emails, text and phone calls. Remember I don’t make the rules. I’m just appointed to help. I’m trying to be an advocate for small business. I believe more businesses should be allowed to open now. I fought for agriculture to be deemed essential, which impacts the East End significantly. I can’t advocate for everything because there are certain things that just don’t make sense at this time. We’re not gonna go to Citi Field and have 40,000 people watching a Mets game. Packed bars and restaurants? It doesn’t seem that can happen, but I believe it’s not unreasonable that we should allow outside dining to occur now.
Q: Businesses are really worried out here. People are scared.
A: Not just scared, they’re terrified. I see it here where I live in St. James. People don’t know even when it reopens if there business can come back. We need to be doing everything we can to be helping these businesses now. I get the public health concerns of this pandemic. I’ve lived through it. My [mother-in-law] passed away three weeks ago from COVID-19. I’m not diminishing the health care aspects of this at all, but the economic impacts are terrifying.
Q: Greenport Village is one of those places that’s terrified, to use your word. It’s a small village with small streets, five-foot wide sidewalks and it’s very popular in the summer. A lot of those businesses are completely dependent on people coming into their store. What will become of Greenport, which has seen such a renaissance?
A: Greenport is one of my favorite places on Long Island and it wouldn’t be the place it is today without all the work Dave Kapell did as mayor. It’s the place everyone wants to be. I know they have severe economic concerns right now because they rely on the tourism industry for the success of all their shops. And I’m not just talking about Claudio’s and the larger places. It’s all of the smaller shops on Main Street. [They’re] trying to amend the code to allow for sort of a reconfiguration to allow for more sidewalk activity so retail can begin to open. I’m very supportive of that. I think it can be a model for other downtowns.
Q: So you are worried about the future?
A: I’m worried about the short-term future. I’m not worried about the long term. Short term, we need to help the small businesses reopen. There are approximately 105,000 businesses on Long Island and 93,000 of those have 20 employees or less. We’re very, very much a small business economy. Most are living month to month and the owner is the operator, the bookkeeper, the CFO and the HR person. They have so many challenges. I think all the public efforts — local, state and federal — needs to be for these types of smaller businesses for the short term. Many of them are not going to survive without it.
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