I have spent the last 44 years working with hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses in Maine and New England and know firsthand the delicate balance between success and failure, even in the best of times. Any business owner with a heavy seasonal orientation knows how the earnings captured from one season are used to carry them through their down months and prepare for the following season. Most of them can just barely make it to opening day of the following season when their revenue and cash flow picks up again in time to be able to pay staff and vendors and purchase essential supplies. Putting off “opening day” by one or two months is tantamount to a forced business failure. Is this the burden we want or expect companies to bear?

Right now, we have fewer than 1,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and fewer than 70 deaths in Maine. In fact, we here in Maine are now largely a population of uninfected persons keeping our distance and avoiding contact with other uninfected persons. The fear and trepidation created by the 24/7 news cycle during an election year leaves virtually everyone afraid of running into the rare, almost non-existent, infected person in Maine. Many of the infections have occurred in nursing homes, shelters and other areas of congestion with a significantly compromised community.

We know who the most vulnerable are today and we have the ability to keep them out of harm’s way as much as possible. It’s time for the rest of us to get on with reclaiming a normal life, albeit with practical precautions.

The reality of a health crisis becoming an economic tragedy, too, has already occurred. We have a chance to avoid it becoming worse if we act quickly. Rescinding the 14-day self-quarantine requirement for visitors to Maine, and allowing all businesses to reopen as soon as they believe they can safely operate, is the first step needed. The quarantine requirement alone posts a virtual NO TRESPASSING sign on all of Maine’s state boundaries. That’s no way to maintain our status as Vacationland.

We should now be welcoming visitors to Maine, with gentle messages about practical precautions, and promoting Maine as The Safest Place To Vacation this year. Here’s why.

We’ve learned over the past six to seven weeks how to successfully operate supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies, gas stations, construction sites, shipbuilding operations, numerous manufacturing plants and more. Surely, we can safely operate restaurants, hotels, campgrounds, office buildings, retail shops and personal service businesses.


There is no clear rationale from government officials why some businesses still need to remain closed. During this crisis, big-box stores remained open but the small stores were closed. In a state where the economy is largely driven by small business, it just doesn’t make sense. To think that a small-business owner can just wait another month or two and then confidently reopen lacks some basic economic understanding. Most small businesses don’t have the working capital or financial backstop to sustain themselves indefinitely while holding on to hope.

Meanwhile, decision makers and experts being consulted are being well paid, don’t worry about losing their life savings or the ruination of a three-generation-old enterprise. It’s this situation that needs more careful attention and immediate action to help avoid the already-unfolding disaster.

If we don’t fully open our economy, we risk losing the entrepreneurial drive and dedication it takes to run and sustain small businesses, and we risk losing the talent and staff these companies have come to rely on year after year.

Hotels, restaurants, bars and resort operators and the network of outdoor recreational businesses make up almost a third of our economy. They can’t be flipped on and off like a switch. There are carefully orchestrated logistics, supply chain dynamics, recruiting, training, marketing, facility preparation, menus and hundreds of other activities, all designed to culminate in an “opening day” and start to a new business season.

We are now facing a situation in which the costs of knowingly devastating our economy are worse than those of the virus we are trying avoid. Poverty has never made people healthier.

A new agenda is needed now.

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