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Eggs & Issues: Local lawmakers hash out small business approach amid COVID-19

The local group of Republican lawmakers were lock-step with the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce in their commitment to push a partial reopening of the economy intended to keep small businesses afloat while maintaining protective measures against the coronavirus.

Eggs and Issues Screen Grab 3.jpg
A screengrab of the Eggs & Issues 2020 business-oriented political forum, an annual event that features local politicians speaking during a teleconference this year in light of COVID-19 restrictions across the state. Despite these limitations, the event drew close to 200 people for a discussion that revolved around the coronavirus, the struggle of small businesses and efforts to promote the partial reopening of local economies.

Lakes area lawmakers and nearly 200 people linked up for a teleconference broadcast of the Eggs & Issues 2020 business-oriented political forum — which marked a significant increase in attendance over years past, as noted by organizers.

In keeping with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in central Minnesota, the annual event wasn’t a political discussion over breakfast, but a Zoom meeting where lawmakers largely hashed out reopening parts of the economy and the ramifications of that.

Hosted by Matt Kilian, the president of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, the event featured Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa; state Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point; as well as state Reps. John Poston, R-Lake Shore; Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin; and Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa.

During the hour-long discussion, these Republicans — alongside Kilian, representing the chamber — reaffirmed their efforts to accelerate the gradual reopening of the central Minnesota economy in a way that buoys small businesses struggling to remain afloat while also maintaining social distancing measures and protecting the general populace.

“(We’re) trying to get the governor to move a little quicker and, as more and more data comes out, I think we're moving to a better and better spot where I think you can get to that place,” said Gazelka, who noted that Gov. Tim Walz stipulated the state must be able to do 5,000 tests a day at minimum, and the state must provide enough personal protection equipment.

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Gazelka stated 35 million pieces of PPE was recently supplied by the federal government and the state is now capable of providing 20,000 tests a day.

“There's a number of directions we could choose to go, and the direction I've been advocating, from since five weeks ago, is that we should shelter at home the seniors and the vulnerable,” said Gazelka, who added it’s in the interest of business owners that Minnesota weathers the predicted second spike of cases in June rather than July during the height of tourism. “And let the rest of us practice social distancing and the rest of the CDC guidance (at work and in public).”

Ruud said it’s incumbent on small business owners to acknowledge the economy and current business practices are very different from before the advent of COVID-19 this year. She said it’s up to them to show Walz the Brainerd lakes area can conduct business in a safe manner that doesn’t needlessly put lives at risk.

“When you do open, don't complain about not being open, put a plan in place so we can show the governor how we can do business safely,” Ruud said. “That's how we're going to get more businesses open by getting small businesses to really think about that: What's your new reality about doing business? We've seen incredible adaptation of businesses.”

In his remarks, Heintzeman praised Kilian for taking a strong position sticking up for small businesses that “wasn’t easy to do,” and iterated the chamber and lawmakers are advocating for a partial reopening.

Heintzeman noted he’s experienced personal loss recently as a result of COVID-19 and also noted it will be a challenge to reopen the Brainerd lakes area economy effectively as it is, by his estimation, roughly 75% based in tourist activities, which are often face to face.

With that in mind, Heintzeman said, there has to be balance struck between the draconian closure orders of some states, such as Michigan, and the relative lack of action taken by others like South Dakota.

“We're recognizing that this is something that is affecting Minnesotans, and in a very dramatic way, and we haven't yet reached the peak of the impact,” Heintzeman said. “In light of all of that though, we got to look at what is the path forward. And I think that we're all working towards figuring out what it is gonna take to reopen each individual sector of our economy or each individual business model across all of the state.”

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Poston echoed the two senators and expressed optimism regarding businesses across the state, which he said are more than ready to reopen in a safe manner, with plans in place that rival or even exceed that of the federal government to slow the spread of COVID-19 so it doesn’t overwhelm health care facilities.

“They're ready, they're ready for real. They've got plans. … When businesses have a plan, and we're able to present those plans to the governor, we're going to be able to move things ahead quicker,” Poston said. “We know this about our community. We're so blessed to live here, but I find as I've been visiting these businesses, and businesses are really working with one another. They're sharing those best practices ideas, even if they're competitors, which is just fantastic. And so kudos to the Brainerd lakes area, and to the chamber guys.”

Lueck supported sentiments that the state is in a stage where calculated risks have to be taken and businesses need the self-determination and autonomy to make the right choices.

“You are really on the right track,” said Lueck of small businesses and the chamber, while also stating that nobody better understands how to executive protective measures in their own businesses than owners. “We really need to shift over to risk analysis. Put the essential/non essential (designation) back on the people that merit it — doctors, police officers, ambulance drivers and firefighters — and don't label the rest of us. We're all essential.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at gabe.lagarde@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .

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