Virtual town hall meeting planned for county's COVID-19 business response team
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Event will be streamed live on Farmington Facebook page
FARMINGTON — In his role as mayor of Farmington and a member of the San Juan County Business Response Team, Nate Duckett says he fields questions all day long about COVID-19 and the virus' impact on the business sector.
But in his conversations with local merchants, Duckett said an increasing amount of his time is spent addressing one issue.
"Business owners are wanting some firm dates," he said, explaining that those merchants — especially those who operate businesses that have been deemed nonessential and have been forced to close their doors — are focused on hearing about when, and under what circumstances, they will be able to welcome customers again so they can begin planning for that eventuality.
Duckett and representatives of the San Juan County Business Response Team will discuss that issue and many others during a virtual town hall meeting at 4 p.m. on April 30. The meeting will be streamed live on the City of Farmington Facebook page at facebook.com/cityoffarmingtonnm.
The event will be highlighted by a panel discussion featuring Duckett, San Juan County Commissioner Jack Fortner, San Juan College President Dr. Toni Hopper Pendergrass, Four Corners Economic Development board chairman John Byrom and Dr. Lorenzo Reyes, the dean of workforce and economic development at San Juan College.
Duckett said many of the local business owners with whom he has spoken are nervous and confused about how much longer the shutdown will remain in effect.
"They drive around and some of them see lots of stores open, and they wonder why theirs isn't allowed to be," he said. "That's a problem. We definitely need some direction on that from the governor."
Fortner said he is hearing a lot of frustration, as well, and he counts himself in that crowd. But he is hopeful some of the social distancing restrictions are going to be eased soon by the governor.
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When that happens, he said, he believes business owners need to prepare themselves for a new normal — a world in which all workers and all customers are required to wear a mask and hand sanitizer is readily available.
"It's to protect everybody," he said.
Duckett said an update on the spread of the virus in San Juan County will be provided during the town hall meeting. Officials also will discuss the support system that has been constructed for helping local business owners navigate the crisis.
He said the Farmington Chamber of Commerce and San Juan College are working together on developing an easy-to-use training plan for merchants that addresses how they can keep their employees and customers safe and what they need to do to be able to operate in such a challenging environment.
Duckett noted that the launch of the business response team is part of a coordinated effort by various local entities to address the problems created by the spread of the virus.
The team includes officials from the city of Farmington San Juan County and San Juan College, along with representatives of the Farmington Chamber of Commerce, the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau, Four Corners Economic Development, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Farmington office of WESST.
Every local government entity has a plan for addressing COVID-19 issues, Duckett said. But that collective response across San Juan County should reflect the action that is being taken throughout the Four Corners area, he said, citing what is happening on the Navajo Nation, and in Utah and Colorado.
Duckett hopes to see the county's state parks and golf courses, and many of its smaller retail stories reopen soon. He said big-box retailers have done a good job of operating safely during the shutdown, but he said smaller retailers offer a quality of shopping experience their larger counterparts can't match.
The mayor said the social distancing restrictions that were put in place to flatten the curve of the spread of the virus largely have been successful at keeping the state's health-care providers from being overrun, even with the higher number of reported cases in the state's northwest corner. He believes consideration should be given to lifting some of those restrictions and allowing many people who have been idled to get back to work.
But the task of making customers feel safe again falls squarely on the shoulders of business owners, Duckett said.
"They're going to need to market their business again and say, 'Hey, we're open — this is what we do and why you should do business with us,'" he said.
Duckett said there had a sizable push to get consumers to patronize locally owned businesses before the shutdown came along, and he hopes to see a resurgence in support for those businesses as the restrictions are eased.
He believes there will be a strong atmosphere for entrepreneurship when the dust from the COVID-19 pandemic settles.
"There's going to be an opportunity to tap into the economic development programs we have going on here," he said.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.