On Monday, SB 1 (Civil Immunity Related to COVID-19), authored by Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper), cleared the Legislature when the Senate concurred 39-7 on the version passed by the House. Three days later, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the bill into law.
The Governor stated: “The pandemic has affected Hoosier businesses, schools and others in ways no one could have foreseen just one year ago. To aid in the state’s recovery, I made providing assurances that they will not have to live and work in fear of frivolous lawsuits a part of my Next Level Agenda. Most Hoosier businesses and other organizations are making good faith attempts to protect their customers and employees, because it is the right thing to do and it makes for better business in the long run. I want to thank lawmakers for rapidly passing this key piece of legislation and sending it to my desk for signature.” Senate Bill 1 is retroactive to March 2020.
The Indiana Chamber is very appreciative of the Governor’s support and that the Legislature fast tracked this bill. More and more of these lawsuits are being filed across the country despite the fact that a person could be exposed to COVID-19 virtually anywhere out in public.
Hoosier businesses that follow accepted COVID-19 safety guidelines should not be subject to litigation that could devastate their companies – many of which are already struggling financially. That’s why this bill is so important and comes as a great relief to businesses – particularly smaller businesses – across the state. And it’s the reason this was our top legislative priority this session.
The Chamber wants to thank Sen. Messmer and Rep. Jerry Torr (R-Carmel), the House sponsor of the bill, for all of their hard work on this critical business issue.
Washington, D.C. – Indiana, like other states, is facing a critical moment as it contemplates its post-pandemic future after a year of historic tumult, quarantines, and recession.
While it has managed, by some measures, one of the stronger recoveries from the initial COVID-19 crisis among states, Indiana must now address a set of “preexisting conditions,” including multiyear productivity slippages in its advanced-industry sector, recurrent struggles with industry and labor market shifts, and a shortage of quality employment.
A new report from the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, in partnership with the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP), titled “State of renewal: Charting a new course for Indiana’s economic growth and inclusion,” draws a number of conclusions about the Indiana economy as it emerges from the COVID-19 crisis and considers how to catalyze a new era of prosperity. The report argues that while the state possesses significant strengths—as it continues the ninth-best pandemic job recovery among states—it still faces underlying challenges that require attention. Among the pre-Covid conditions that warrant special concern are the state’s modest rate of employment growth and slow real median wage growth—which at 0.5% a year ranked Indiana 46th among states.
Underlying these conditions, meanwhile, are challenges affecting three key success factors identified by Brookings that point to areas of needed response:
Advanced-industry sector competitiveness—reflected in productivity trends—has been slipping, in part due to firm and industry underinvestment in IT.
Over time, Indiana has struggled more than other states to adjust to economic shocks, creating “reallocation” challenges for its industries and workers.
Like many states, Indiana has been providing too few “good jobs,” defined by Brookings as sustainable jobs that pay at least a locally adjusted $40,700 a year and provide employer health insurance. In addition, access to a good job is highly uneven, with just 30% of Black workers and 25% of Latino or Hispanic workers holding such a job, compared to 44% of white workers.
“As the pandemic wanes, the desire to `get back to normal’ will be understandable, but the state would do well to see if it can also make moves now to emerge from the Covid year in better, more competitive and inclusive shape than before,” said Mark Muro, a Brookings senior fellow who led the yearlong analysis. “Our hope is that the state, businesses, civic leaders, and regional organizations will find our work helpful to efforts to ensure Indiana emerges from the pandemic recession stronger than it was before it.”
Envisioned as part of the “Indiana GPS Project”—a comprehensive research and analysis effort spearheaded by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and assembling research from Brookings as well as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and its partner Economic Innovation Group (EIG), both in Washington, D.C.—the Brookings assessment began before the COVID-19 crisis, but has inevitably reflected it.
In-person focus groups in most regions gave way to video conferences with leaders in all 11 state regions that informed the project’s focus on three main strategy priorities reflecting the challenges underlying the state’s “preexisting conditions.”
In that vein, the report advises the state and its regional, civic, and business partners to take steps in the immediate future to:
Accelerate digital adoption to drive economic dynamism, productivity, and competitiveness
Promote favorable job creation and worker transitions to allow for a beneficial “rewiring” of the economy
Do more to support workers who aren’t in good jobs so as to promote economic justice, inclusion, and broadly shared prosperity
Arrayed across those priorities are a number of detailed recommendations, including to: support firms’ tech awareness and modernization; encourage digital skills development; begin to solve a lack of broadband; promote advanced-industry growth in the state’s regions; enhance entrepreneurship; promote worker adjustment; enlarge the state’s earned income tax credit; explore a Medicaid buy-in program; address child care shortages; and support greater retirement savings.
“The Brookings work shows us that Indiana’s economy is at an inflection point. Fortunately, our state has a solid foundation on which to build. There are, however, challenges that need to be addressed with urgency and intentionality,” said David L. Johnson, president and CEO of CICP. “The Indiana GPS Project reports provide us with incredibly valuable data and strategies for charting our path forward. Hoosiers at all levels of government, in all sectors of the economy, and at home in both urban and rural communities across our state, must commit to working together to build upon our great legacy and move forward to ensure growth and prosperity in our state.”
About Brookings Metro The Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program delivers research and solutions to help metropolitan leaders build an advanced economy that works for all. To learn more, please visit brookings.edu/metro. Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/brookingsmetro.
About the Indiana GPS Project Coordinated by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP), the Indiana GPS Project is a series of multidimensional reports on Indiana’s economy. It is designed to inform public policy and business priorities that will spur economic growth in Indiana, including through recommendations about how to increase the number of good jobs available to Hoosiers. The research project, which began in August 2019, has been spearheaded by CICP and conducted in collaboration with the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and the American Enterprise Institute.
“The economy, as it has been since March 2020, is beholden to the virus—for now. As case levels remain elevated, they will depress economic activity,” says Dubay. “This is particularly painful for businesses that cannot operate normally during the pandemic, like restaurants, bars, sporting, theatrical, and business events, conventions, theme parks, travel, tourism, film production, and others. Many of these are small businesses. Once vaccines are more widely distributed though, and case levels decline, the economy will pick up steam as those businesses ‘on the bottom of the K’ resume operating more fully. Small business optimism should rise as these things occurs. Hopefully this starts happening in a big way soon.”
Here are some of the top trends to look out for in 2021.
When will the SBI headline number return to normal?
The Q4 2020 SBI score was 52.9 (a slight increase of 2.6 points from Q3). However, the new score remains substantially below findings before the pandemic. The score was 71.7 in Q1 of 2020, based on data collected before the full economic impact of the coronavirus set in.
You can see the big drop off in Q2 below:
The headline number has slowly clawed its way up from its record-low (the SBI began in 2017) of 39.5 in Q2. Q4’s 52.9 is still far off from the usual 60-70 range seen before the pandemic began. This will be a key metric to watch in 2021.
When will a solid majority see their business health as good?
Small businesses are divided on the health of their businesses according to report data. In Q4, half (50%) of small businesses said their business was in good overall health which might seem like a lot. But before the pandemic began 65% said the same (in Q1) and 69% said so in Q4 of 2019.
Also, 18% said their small business was in poor health in Q4, while half of that (9%) said their business was in poor health in Q1 2020.
Those looking for a turnaround might want to see substantially over half saying their business is in good health again. Something else to watch for next year.
When will cash flow get back to normal?
Small businesses comfort with their cash flow has been improving. A majority (59%) report comfort with cash flow, a finding that has been generally stable since the end of May. But that’s not the whole story.
14% are “not at all” comfortable with their cash flow, more than double those who said the same earlier this year (6% said so in Q1). On the other end of the spectrum, 17% are very comfortable with their cash flow, compared to 28% who said the same in Q1.
This metric has a ways to go to approach the pre-pandemic level when fully 80% of small businesses reported comfort with their cash flow.
When will more small businesses pull back from plans to reduce staff?
First, the good news: most small businesses (52%) anticipate retaining the same size staff over the next year.
However, there has been a shift away from increasing staff and towards decreasing staff since the pandemic began. More small businesses planned to reduce staff in Q4 (14%, up from 9% last quarter), reaching levels not seen since the beginning of the pandemic in late April (13%). Only 5% planned to reduce staff in Q1 of 2020.
This will be one obscure—but key—number to watch in 2021.
When will small businesses see a better national economy?
Perceptions are critical in planning for a small business. If you think the economy is good, you’re more likely to invest, hire, and expand. If you think bad times will persist, you’re likely to do the opposite: trim costs, hunker down, and get your budget in tighter shape. That’s why perceptions of the economy matter—if enough business believe the same thing, perception can become reality.
Currently, small businesses don’t see a great U.S. economy. Just 29% of small businesses described the U.S. economy as good in Q4 up seven percentage points from September, but down 30 percentage points from Q1 when 60% of small businesses said the economy was good. It is also down 28 points year-on-year: in Q4 2019 57% said the national economy was good.
Overall, half (50%) of small businesses rate the overall health of the U.S. economy as poor (but down eight points from September). For context, only 12% said the national economy was poor in Q1.
The number describing small business perceptions of the American economy is perhaps the most important thing to watch in 2021—if this bounces back it should confirm we’re on the road to a solid economic recovery.
These are just some of the key metrics to watch in 2021. The next SBI (for Q1 2021) is scheduled to be released in March—so stay tuned!
The SBI is part of a multiyear collaboration by MetLife and the U.S. Chamber to elevate the voice of America’s small business owners and highlight the important role they play in the nation’s economy.
By Coral Gregory, Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce Intern
Synergy HomeCare of Richmond opened their doors in 2015, but owners Tom and Mindy Deckard had firmly established permanence in the Rose City long before they decided to provide high-quality non-medical home care. “Early on, we decided we wanted to stay here. Our roots were here,” Mr. Deckard says. While Covid-19 has required a swift and stern response on their part, one thing remains prevalent in the service they provide —the value they have for clients and caregivers alike. We interviewed Tom Deckard about his business and its unique place in the county’s COVID-19 response.
At first, Covid severely impacted Synergy’s services. Clients were “not wanting someone to come in their home for fear of COVID-19 exposure. Caregivers themselves, some of whom are retirees who we employ, were worried about going out there into homes for the same reason—protecting their own health,” Mr. Deckard says. “We lost more than half of our client hours at that time.” The impacts and developments of Covid have begun to contrast that which we saw towards the start. “Some of the things that were prohibiting business before are now causing clients to come to us because they want to keep their family member at home,” Mr. Deckard says. “That’s caused people to come back our way.”
Synergy HomeCare prioritizes a client’s mental and physical well-being. What has been unique about the changes they have made is their perspective when establishing protocol for caregivers. “The degree of PPE —whether that’s masks, footlets, or shields— assures people that they’re safe when a caregiver’s coming in. It is protection, but we also want the client to feel that they are safe,” Mr. Deckard says. He even expressed his openness to masks becoming a more permanent part of their tool-kit. “I like the mask idea because anything from a cold to basic flu makes mask-wearing a good practice. It is a requirement now, but I think I could see that being extended.”
The Deckards place a lot of value on client experience because they know what it’s like to be in their clients’ shoes. “We know how much it meant to us,” Mr. Deckard says. “My parents, in their aging years, had this kind of help. Caregivers come in the home to help them, and those folks just became like family to us. So, we knew the value of this kind of service.” The Deckards felt that the more they learned about the service, the more they liked it. From there, it merely became a matter of realizing their goal to provide the quality care they had cherished. “The people we look for to hire as caregivers have that heart for helping people. They are with the clients for a lot of hours, and they become good friends and build good relationships,” Mr. Deckard says. “It’s the opposite of thankless work. You feel like you’re appreciated every day for helping families stay in their home.”
The goal is to find a good fit in both the client and caregiver’s skills and personality. “We emphasize the hiring process and trying to really know a caregiver the best we can,” Mr. Deckard says. It all starts with getting excellent caregivers. “You’re a little picky in an environment where you’re trying to get as many as you can, and that’s hard, but you still have to have that standard.” Finding new caregivers is a multifaceted process, from employee referrals to online job sites. The greater benefit would be the comfort proximity can provide. “Something I’ve observed over time is that the closer someone lives to a client,” Mr. Deckard says, concerning a client’s comfort, “the more local, the better.”
The Deckards feel that the community has welcomed them with open arms in the time their business has grown to provide for seven counties. “Some of that goes back to having relationships here for 30 years,” Mr. Deckard says. He worked for Belden for 31 years, ending his time there on January 15, 2015. Their feeling is that they have established a strong network between themselves and other business community members. “We’ve been involved with the Chamber from the beginning,” Mr. Deckard says. Maintaining communication in non-traditional ways has been important to Synergy. Referral partners have been harder to keep in contact with. “It’s been more over the phone and electronic. We did deliver some things around Christmas time to let them know we were thinking about them,” Mr. Deckard says.
When entering the Synergy HomeCare office, you can’t help but feel at home in a somewhat subconscious way. From layout alone, it is apparent that the people working there are a team. “The way we’re situated in here, when things happen—a phone call, if somebody’s having a problem—we kind of all know about it because we can hear and talk about it,” Mr. Deckard Says. The place has character. Warm lighting and brass sculptures of Jazz Musicians bring out the heart in their service. It’s an environment like this that can make a person feel comfortable allowing Synergy HomeCare caregivers into their loved-ones’ homes because you already feel as if they have allowed you into theirs.
We are finally in a stage of COVID-19 vaccines, and there are important things you should be thinking about for your workforce. We all want to get back to “normal” as soon as possible, but we are continually reminded that is still in the distance. The more people are vaccinated, the closer we get to the herd immunity we keep hearing about.
Thankfully, vaccines are now being given at the Reid site in the Kuhlman Center as well as in the former Elder-Beerman building with the Wayne County Health Department. The hours of operation at the Kuhlman Center are Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Individuals schedule online at OurShot.IN.gov, or by calling 211. While the eligible groups do not yet include adults under 65, now is the time to start planning.
I want to encourage you to consider these four things to help your employees through this process:
Do your employees have access to a computer and does that computer’s firewall allow access to the scheduling website? If not, consider setting up special computer stations for easy access and add the state scheduling site, powered by Zotec, on your approved website list. Be sure to have sanitizing items nearby to keep the stations clean from user to user.
Do your employees have the freedom to leave for a short time to get vaccinated? While this obviously takes away from productivity, ultimately it will help you get back to your highest productivity levels and reduce the need for quarantine/isolation periods. It is realistic to expect under 30 minutes to be in and out of the test site. This includes the 15-minute observation time. If the individual has completed registration, the wait time is even less. A link will be received from Zotec that will allow the employee to complete the registration before heading to the vaccine clinic.
What is the perception of safety among your workers? We have all heard theories of how safe the vaccinations are or are not. What are the facts? Consider posting the Myth Busters poster.
If you have employees who work in Indiana but live in Ohio, they may be vaccinated at either the Kuhlman Center or the Wayne County Health Dept site. If it is more convenient for an Ohio resident to be vaccinated closer to home, they will need to contact the health department in their county of residence.
Ultimately, we cannot require our employees to be vaccinated. However, the more we can do to eliminate barriers with the process, the more people we will see actually receiving the vaccination.