Regional leader says businesses eager to reopen but must protect employees, customers

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 April 2020 at 10:11 am

‘We’re all in unchartered waters. Whether you’re a small mom-and-pop business or a major corporation or a bank, we’re all feeling this pain.’ – Robert Duffy

Provided photo: Robert J. Duffy

ROCHESTER – Robert Duffy, the former lieutenant governor who now is president and CEO of Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, has a new mission from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Duffy has been tasked to lead the reopening plan for the nine-county Finger Lakes region, which includes Orleans County.

Duffy, a former Rochester mayor and police chief, was lieutenant governor in the Cuomo administration from January 2011 to December 2014.

Duffy last week was appointed as special advisor to lead the reopening plan for the Finger Lakes region. In a video conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Duffy said he has had a series of meetings with health and economic development officials in the nine counties.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced manufacturing and construction industries will be the first businesses to reopen after the state comes off “pause.” The governor has closed many non-essential businesses until May 15 while the state is on pause to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Duffy said he is gathering information and listening to health and business experts. There won’t be a big committee or task force formed for the Finger Lakes reopening plan.

“If you don’t want something done have a committee,” he told reporters.

Duffy will give the governor a recommendation on the reopening plan, but ultimately, Duffy said, Cuomo will make the decision on which businesses open first and under what kind of restrictions.

Duffy is hearing loud and clear from businesses.

“People are frustrated who own businesses,” Duffy said. “They want to reopen but they want to reopen safely.”

He cited polls that the public overwhelmingly supports restrictions with social distancing, wearing masks and taking precautions from the coronavirus.

The state and local governments also are feeling the pressure with businesses closed from a revenue standpoint.

“Every day a business is closed there is no sales tax going to the state or county,” Duffy said. “There is a constant loss of revenue for everybody. We’re looking forward to getting to the point where we can reopen safely.”

All of the nine counties in the Finger Lakes region, including the small rural counties, will be heard from Duffy and his team. “We are going county by county,” he said.

Duffy said the economic pain from the shutdowns is widespread. More than 1 million New Yorkers have filed unemployment claims. The state is facing a budget hole of $13 billion.

“We’re all in unchartered waters,” Duffy said. “Whether you’re a small mom-and-pop business or a major corporation or a bank, we’re all feeling this pain.”

Duffy urged business owners to develop a plan for reopening, and not wait until there is an announcement from the state on which businesses can again serve the public.

The plan should include protections for employees and the customers, with utilizing masks or facial coverings, sanitizer and social distancing. The plan should also include people working off site as much as possible to reduce the density in a workplace.

“Business as usual won’t be order of the day,” Duffy said. “This is a great lesson for all of us. It’s not about coming back the same. We should reimagine the future.”

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