Team produces package to battle pandemic economic slide
An advisory team tasked with developing ideas to help Miami-Dade emerge from economic peril caused by the coronavirus pandemic has delivered a score of recommendations.
For now, most of those recommendations remain ideas, but each has been designed to be actionable, said Beacon Council President and CEO Michael Finney, chairman of the Covid-19 Economic Recovery Task Force.
“We know there’s a lot of competing priorities for resources now, [and] we understand all the recommendations may not be adopted as-is; they may be modified,” he said. “Some may be more interesting than others. We respect the role the Board of County Commissioners will play in deciding what will ultimately move forward, but at the end of the day, any recommendations approved by the commission will have a net positive for the community.”
The 22-member task force first convened in early June, roughly three months after commissioners created it to serve as a much-needed think tank for local business recovery efforts. The group’s membership included appointments by each county commissioners and various industry organizations.
After establishing Mr. Finney as chairman and Florida East Coast Industries Senior Vice President Jose Gonzalez as vice chairman, the task force split into three subgroups.
The first subgroup, the New Normal Guidelines/Needs Assessment Work Group, has focused on a broad array of issues, including reviewing and improving Mayor Carlos Giménez’s “New Normal” safety guidelines, creating clear and consistent guidance among cities and the county, testing and contact tracing protocols, preparing for a possible second wave of Covid-19, telecommuting, unemployment assistance, food distribution, social and mental health services, public safety, childcare and protecting especially vulnerable and impacted areas.
The group developed and distributed the “Covid-19 Business Needs Assessment Survey” to determine what to prioritize and, based on the feedback it received, submitted five recommendations:
■Develop a centralized, user-friendly online source of New Normal and Covid-19-related guidance and resources that provides real-time updates to subscribers and through social media, as well as a dedicated phone number and downloadable PDF-type hard copy of the information for people who cannot readily access the web.
■Conduct a countywide online needs assessment survey in multiple languages and to businesses, nonprofit organizations and residents, to gauge high-priority business and community needs,” using social media, industry and media partners and others to promote the survey and distributing hard copies to people who cannot easily access the web.
■Require businesses and their employees to get standard training, including certification of completion, on New Normal guidelines, with cost-effective and accessible training “tailored for core industry groups and provided through various methods and languages…”
■Create a Miami-Dade Covid-19 Risk Assessment Chart in various languages “based on input from medical professionals, to serve as a basic and user-friendly reference for what risk level is associated with certain activities, so that the public is able to make more informed decisions…”
■Update county outreach materials to reflect current guidelines and requirements in several languages, with materials including an effective date “or other clarifications to ensure that messaging is consistent and to minimize confusion in the community.”
The second subgroup, the Industry/Small Business Working Group, similarly focused on a spectrum of objectives, from reviewing housing and development guidelines to help protect tenants and landlords, mortgage and rental assistance and ensuring that health and long-term care facilities have the protective equipment they need to proposing how to stabilize and maintaining small businesses during this time while building capacity for the future, helping small businesses access critical information, buy-local and matchmaking initiatives and addressing challenge small businesses face in complying with New Normal guidelines.
The group produced nine recommendations, most of which “centered around access to capital and technical assistance that’s needed by small businesses to be successful in going after funding,” Mr. Finney said.
The group recommended that the county:
■Expedite distribution of Covid-19 assistance funds to businesses by streamlining application processes and “removing artificial barriers for eligibility, including … relaxing rules, such as documentation requirements or qualifications; removing requirements that restrict the ability of individuals or business owners on the ‘path to citizenship’ to access funds”; and removing language that prevents businesses from getting funds if they’ve already received Payroll Protection Program (PPP) funding.
■Lobby at all government levels to enhance the PPP and extend the program “until all funds are expended, rather than to set a date.
■“Increase funding for organizations that provide management and technical assistance, including financial literacy and capacity building training, to ensure that small businesses are better prepared to apply for county and other funding programs…”
■Ensure that agencies like 311, the police department and Covid-19 surge teams are knowledgeable about what Covid-19 resources are available and have resources and materials, in multiple languages, to distribute.
■Designate a non-elected individual to serve as the county’s Chief Recovery Officer and be responsible for coordinating and managing all the county’s economic recovery efforts in order to “ensure independence, accountability, and a smooth transition as elected officials are termed out of office.”
■Improve coordination about Covid-19 recovery efforts and guidelines between cities, counties and state agencies.
■Extend the county’s eviction moratorium until at least Sept. 30 “while methods of providing tenant relief and protecting landlord obligations are evaluated.”
■Invest in long-term, comprehensive solutions for small businesses to remain competitive, “such as providing hardware and software, education, and training.”
■“Target financial assistance to industries and businesses that provide support services to workers that will allow them to continue working, such as day care and elder care facilities, camps, and education centers.”
The efforts of the third subgroup, the Marketing/Outreach Working Group, focused largely on improving and augmenting existing county promotional efforts, devising how to counter negative media and convey to the public that the county is safe, and to develop communication for residents and businesses that is both clear and consistent.
“We think it’s really important to tell the story that Miami is open for business when appropriate and to target customers for the various business types we have and ensure that, once they’re open, they’ll have all the resources they need – [personal protective equipment], masks and other things,” Mr. Finney said.
It recommended that the county:
■Develop a social media campaign featuring local celebrities and industry partners promoting standard guidelines – washing hands, using facial coverings and adhering to social distancing – and sending the message that the county is open for business under current guidelines.
■Create a grassroots outreach campaign with community and faith-based organizations to “educate and inform underserved and high-risk populations about Covid-19” in many languages and on many media.
■Use county Covid-19 surge teams and local community and faith organizations to distribute guidance and resources in many languages to communities with limited web access.
■Develop methods to maximize social media impacts through sponsored ads, tagging and targeted messaging to reach younger demographics in high-surge areas.
■Incorporate in messages that everyone should be a community advocate and that “it’s not just about doing your part but helping your neighbor and holding them accountable as well.”
■Expand the membership of the Covid-19 Economic recovery Task Force to include an appointment by the county Millennial Task Force who “can provide the perspective of the younger generation and assist with the development of effective strategies for increasing awareness amongst youth about the threat of Covid-19.”
To that end, the task force has already made additional recruitments. The county Millennial Task Force Advisory Board appointed Jeve Clayton, deputy policy director for the county Aviation Department; and the International Trade Consortium appointed CAMACOL President Joe Chi.
Other members include Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce President Eric Knowles, Prospera Regional Vice President Myrna Sonora, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce CEO Alfred Sanchez, Community Action Agency Councilman Dr. Michael Fresco, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO William Talbert III, Jackson North Obstetrics and Gynecology Department Chairman Dr. Nelson Adams, Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council CEO Beatrice Louissaint, Neighbors and Neighbors Association Executive Director Leroy Jones, Ocean Drive Improvement Association Executive Director Ceci Velasco; Hialeah Councilman Jesus Tundidor, Joe’s Stone Crab owner Steven Sawitz, South Florida AFL-CIO Vice President Richard Quincoces, Unite Here Secretary Treasurer Wendi Walsh, Westchester Miami-Dade Business Council President Paul Camacho, DMG Consulting Services President Diana Gonzalez, Dr. Makandall Saint Eloi and Miami Association of Realtors Chair-Elect Jennifer Wollman.
Mayor Giménez appointed county Small Business Development Director Gary Hartfield to advise and assist the task force as a non-voting member. Pete Marrero, general manager of Dolphin Mall, was part of the group but has since left. Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz is responsible for appointing Mr. Marrero’s replacement.
Member and community engagement have been high, Mr. Finney said, with quorum for meetings exceeding 90% and attendees from the public at every Zoom meeting. The task force is to continue meeting through late September and provide monthly reports culminating in a final report summarizing its findings and final recommendations.
“We want to be part of the solution, working in partnership with many other organizations,” Mr. Finney said. “We’re actively working with 20 other organizations right now on trying to solve specific problems for some of the small businesses here, and to me, that’s how it should be done. It’s what One Community One Goal, [the Beacon Council’s long-term strategic plan for the economic development of the county], is all about. We’re thrilled to be part of this initiative.”