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Survey Reveals Testing, Distancing, Protective Equipment Top Concerns as Houston Businesses Consider Reopening

Published Apr 24, 2020 by A.J. Mistretta

Texas Medical Center

HOUSTON (April 24, 2020) – The need for widespread COVID-19 testing is the top issue Houston companies say must be resolved to fully reopen their businesses. 
 
This is one of several key takeaways from the Greater Houston Partnership’s Reopen Houston Safely survey conducted April 20-22. As the organization works to develop a plan to safely reopen Houston’s businesses, area companies responded to an array of questions ranging from how the pandemic is affecting operations to their greatest needs to safely reopen.  
 
The findings confirmed the shutdown is having a significant negative impact on the region’s economy. Only about one-fourth (28%) of respondents indicated they are operating at full capacity. The industrial sector appears the least-impacted, with 67% of respondents indicating they were operating at 75-100% of normal capacity, while “high-touch” businesses are the most-impacted, with 70% of respondents indicating they are operating at 50% or less of normal capacity. High-touch businesses include restaurants, retail, hotels, and entertainment establishments.

“While it’s clear that many sectors are eager to reopen to stem financial losses from the pandemic, we know based on these results that many sectors want to do so in a responsible way to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers,” said Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership. 

The survey also confirmed that high-touch businesses are hurting for cash. Nearly half of respondents in these sectors indicated “access to financial capital" is their greatest need. These businesses also have the highest closure rates. Nearly 40% of all currently shuttered businesses fall within these sectors, and most are small firms with less than 100 employees. 

When asked to indicate the top issues needing resolution before they could fully reopen, 31% of respondents selected social distancing requirements as a top issue. This sentiment permeated most sectors, including high-touch (37%), healthcare (31%), logistics (29%) and firms primarily consisting of office/knowledge workers (29%). Office/knowledge workers includes IT/information, finance, accounting, legal, finance/investment, and professional services.

Access to personal protective equipment (24%), access to financial capital (22%), access to childcare (17%), and liability protections should an employee contract COVID-19 at work (17%) rounded out the top issues needing resolution before companies can reopen.

While 76% of employers indicated more than half of their employees are working from home, teleworking is not a long-term solution for most businesses. This is important to note as the emerging federal plan calls for teleworking as much as possible over the next few months. Across the board, respondents said they believe only a portion of their employees could continue to work effectively at home after the economy begins to reopen. Two-thirds (67%) of health care respondents indicated that one-fourth or fewer of their employees could effectively work remotely, followed by high touch (63%), logistics (55%), industrial (39%), and education (37%). 

The Partnership’s survey results come as local, state and federal officials discuss the best next steps to safely reopen the economy.  Harris County is currently under a Stay Home, Work Safe order that requires all nonessential businesses to cease on-site operations. That order is set to expire on April 30.
 
"The Partnership is working with local and state leaders to support and advise on the next steps to safely reopen our economy,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. “The results of this survey will help our organization provide local leaders and policymakers with recommendations on how to reopen the economy safely, sustainably and successfully, while also protecting the health of employees and the public.” 
 
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Greater Houston Partnership  
The Greater Houston Partnership works to make Houston one of the best places to live, work and build a business. As the economic development organization for the Houston region, the Partnership champions growth across 11 counties by bringing together business and civic-minded leaders who are dedicated to the area’s long-term success. Representing 1,100 member organizations and approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce, the Partnership is the place business leaders come together to make an impact. Learn more at Houston.org. 
 
Contact:
 
A.J. Mistretta 
Vice President, Communications  
 (c) 504-450-3516 | amistretta@houston.org  
 

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The pioneering educational organizations is known for helping people transform their careers, specializing in the day’s most in-demand skills and for embedding networking opportunities, mentorship and other activities that propel students toward employment.   Tom Ogletree, General Assembly’s vice president of Social Impact and External Affairs, shared during an October UpSkill Works Forum called “Digital Skills: Powering Houston’s Future!” how General Assembly builds programs to meet both employer and workforce needs. “Being able to see both sides of this talent marketplace has really given us a front row seat to some of the evolutions that have been happening as all companies are becoming to one degree or another tech companies,” Ogletree said. “Digital skills are required for categories across sectors, across disciplines, and that there needs to be a reimagining of the ways that people acquire new skills to stay relevant in a really dynamic labor market and a very rapidly changing economy.” GA stays in tune with market needs to ensure that the skills it teaches have real market value. 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