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'Re-Open Florida' Task Force Day 2: When It Comes To Ideas, 'Everything Is On The Table Right Now'

Lynne Sladky
AP Photo

Governor Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida task force held its second day of meetings Tuesday. Ideas on re-open the state’s economy, some of them out-of-the-box, are beginning to be discussed.

Tuesday morning’s work group talked tourism, recreation, construction, retail and other economic sectors.

Jerry Parrish, the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s chief economist, says together those make up a sizeable chunk of the state’s workforce – and they’re the most restricted by COVID-19 closures.

“This most restricted group that we’re talking about today accounts for 38.5 percent of Florida’s GDP, and is 38.8 percent of Florida’s jobs. So, this group has the most jobs to deal with, and has 182,000 small and medium enterprise firms,” Parrish said, near the top of the roughly hour-and-a-half conference call.

The task force holds meetings in two groups: A work group meeting in the morning focuses on particular industries, and its executive committee, including state leadership, meets in the afternoon to dissect the work group’s discussions.

Tim Petrillo, CEO of The Restaurant People, was part of the first work group. His company owns 25 restaurants in Florida.

“The restaurants that seem to be making out the best, and the best is a low barrier, are the quick service and fast food restaurants. Because their model is built on that,” Parrish said, adding dine-in eateries aren’t faring as well. “A lot of restaurants are opened up for to-go, but that really isn’t doing much for the business itself.”

Petrillo says the typical restaurant has about one month of reserves in the bank. And, he says, federal Paycheck Protection Program loans are nice, but they're for employee pay - so they don't help beef up those reserves.

Helpful now, Petrillo told the group, would be a clear idea of a date restaurants can re-open. That date, so far, has not come down from the Governor’s office.

Facilitating the work group call was Dana Young, CEO of the state’s tourism and marketing agency, Visit Florida. Young says the agency is working on a campaign to tout the state as a travel destination again, as officials try to find a timeline to reopen and COVID-19 has changed consumer behavior. The first phase of that plan is pushing in-state vacations to Floridians.

“Our marketing will aim to invoke a sense of Florida pride, by reminding Floridians that they are blessed to live in one of the most amazing vacation destinations in the world,” Young said, adding Visit Florida’s campaign will tap into a sense of ‘state patriotism.’

“We believe that Floridians will respond positively – especially since there’s an existing desire to support and rebuild local businesses.”

In later phases, the agency will market Florida vacations to out-of-staters and international travelers.

Tuesday afternoon, the Re-Open task force’s executive committee discussed some of the working group’s talking points.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez asked about a potential solution for restaurants, if they have to operate at a diminished dining room capacity to keep with social distancing directives:

“Maybe take up some space in their parking lot, okay, to add additional tables if that’s the only way they can be profitable. Is that something that the Governor’s thinking about – somehow superseding some local regulation to allow these restaurants to have a little more space that’s not inside, some more space outside?”

Young’s answer? Any and all ideas are being accepted.

“I have not discussed this with the Governor, but I know the purpose of this task force is for us to bring all ideas, no matter how new or innovative, to the forefront. And I think you did just that, by your insightful comment. Because everything is on the table right now, in terms of just gathering new ideas,” Young said.

Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said giving Floridians better access to quicker testing will be key to re-opening Florida’s economy. In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, he told reporters Florida might have more testing sites in the 'next phase' of the state's response. Some of those could potentially be for businesses to send their employees to.