Task force groups meet to discuss how to safely reopen Florida’s economy

Updated: Apr. 22, 2020 at 2:22 PM EDT
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As the state of Florida gears up to re-open, a task force of dozens of business leaders and government are weighing ideas on how to reopen Florida’s economy safely during the pandemic.

The Re-open Florida Task Force industry working group includes people in small and large businesses, sports, amusement parks, tourism, and transportation. Here’s a full list:

Dana Young, President & CEO, VISIT FLORIDA
Secretary Halsey Beshears, Secretary, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation
Secretary Kevin Thibault, Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation
Mayor Lenny Curry, Mayor, Jacksonville
Mayor David Kerner, Mayor, Palm Beach County
Sheldon Suga, Chairman, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association
Blake Casper, CEO, Caspers Company
Amy Schwartz, Owner, Bella Bella Restaurant
Collier Merrill, President, Merrill Land Company
Philip Goldfarb, President & COO, Fontainebleau Miami Beach
John Tolbert, President & Managing Director, Boca Resort and Club
Jose Cil, CEO, Restaurant Brands International
Josh D’Amaro, President, Walt Disney World Resort
John Sprouls, CEO, Universal Orlando Resort, Executive Vice President, Universal Parks & Resorts
Tim Petrillo, Co-Founder & CEO, The Restaurant People
Dev Motwani, President & CEO, Merrimac Ventures
Chad Harrod, CEO, Harrod Properties, Inc.
Walter Carpenter, Chairman, NFIB Florida Leadership Council
Len Brown, Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer, PGA Tour, Inc
Gary Lester, Vice President, The Villages for Community Relations
Glen Gilzean, President & CEO, Central Florida Urban League
Max Alvarez, President, Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, Inc.
Tom Crowley, CEO, Crowley Maritime Corporation
Joe Lopano, CEO, Tampa International Airport
Ted Christie III, President & CEO, Spirit Airlines
Rick Sasso, President & CEO, MSC Cruises
Maury Gallagher Jr., Chairman & CEO, Allegiant Air
AJ de Moya, Vice President & General Manager, The de Moya Group, Inc.
Paul Anderson, CEO, Port Tampa Bay
Ken Stiles, CEO, Stiles Corporation
Bob Flowers, President, C.W. Roberts Contracting, Inc.
Rob Kornahrens, President & CEO, Advanced Roofing and Green Technologies
Monesia Brown, Director of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Walmart
Cody Kahn, Owner, Holiday Inn Resort
Matthew Caldwell, President & CEO, Florida Panthers Hockey Club

Four Re-Open Florida Task Force conference call meetings are scheduled for Wednesday. The Industry Working Group Related to Accommodation, Food, Tourism, Construction, Real Estate, Recreation, Retail and Transportation met at 10 a.m. They discussed the re-opening of Jacksonville beaches last week and how it could potentially be the model followed statewide. Beaches are open in Jacksonville from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for essential activities like exercise. They have several other restrictions people in the community must follow like no coolers and not congregating.

During the same call the Secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection in Florida, Noah Valenstine, said state parks are going to have to be looked at through a new lens. He said there are 175 state parks and their goal right now is figuring out how they can divide state parks into more passive access points to limit touch points and encourage social distancing. Valenstine said during the call that they have at least 78 parks that can provide those experiences.

Businesses large and small were also discussed during the task force meeting. Sanitation tips and keeping employees and the general public safe were the top priority. Limiting the amount of people within buildings is something the Walmart Director of Public Affairs says has worked for their facilities. On the small business side, the NFIB chairman voiced several questions that he still has before the state re-opens:

o What condition is the small business sector in?

o Special needs for small business sector to reopen?

o What would a reopening look like?

Business leaders in the entertainment industry like the the CEO of Universal Orlando Resort, the Executive Vice President of the PGA, and the CEO of the Florida Panthers Hockey Team also discussed what reopening the state would like for them.

The CEO of Universal Orlando Resort and Executive Vice President of Universal Parks & Resorts, John Sprouls said they anticipate a slow ramp up. Sprouls says the idea right now is when they initially opening back up they will need to cap the number of people in attendance. He also mentioned when it comes to rides and attractions they are going to need to come to an understanding how to minimize people on them. He said that a lot of the practices other industries have applied will be the same for them when it comes to cleaning practices and assuring employees are healthy through screening.

When it comes to sports the CEO of the Florida Panthers, Matthew Caldwell, said they suspect they’ll be resuming games sometime this summer. Caldwell said they are still trying to figure out strategically what they’ll do about having fans in the stadium. He said during the call that they’re unsure if they’ll limit the amount of fans or do games in empty arenas. Caldwell said they’re looking into switching to a cashless arena and really digging hard to limit touch points.

The Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer for the PGA Tour, Len Brown, was also in on the meeting and said they’ve lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue the last several weeks.

“In times of crisis we usually turn to sports and we’re hopeful we can get back to playing soon,” said Brown. He says this needs to be done in the most socially and publicly responsible way possible.

He says they’re coming back without fans. Brown mentions that golf is the kind of sport that has venues that lend themselves to social distancing a lot more than a normal stadium might.

“Florida’s business community is taking the health of their employees, our residents and their guests very seriously. And they also have a desire for a clear and consistent standard that are easily understandable by their staff,” said the President and CEO of VISIT Florida, Dana Young.

The Task Force industry working group involving administrative, education, information & technology, manufacturing, mining, utilities and wholesale also met this morning at 10 in a separate conference call.

During this meeting, education and how to effectively utilize distance learning was the main focus. While school will remain online until the end of the school year, educational leaders are trying to figure out what the rest of 2020 is going to look like going into summer and then fall.

“One of the priorities is to get kids back in school while maintaining safety.But get them back in school where the learning environment is strongest. Where they’re there with somebody giving them direct instruction,” said the Commissioner of education, Richard Corcoran.

Other guiding principles discussed were the transition to online-distance learning for the rest of the school year. The school board asked districts in early March to implement an instructional continuity plan. Educators addressed achievement gaps exacerbated by distance learning and the challenges of addressing those gaps among those returning to an in-person learning experience.

Aside from education and the future of what the rest of the school year will look like other industries also spoke like utilities and how essential the role has been and will continue to be.

“You can’t shelter in place with no lights and no clean water,” said the President and CEO of Florida Power & Light Company, Eric Silagy.

Silagy also reminded commissioners to not forget that hurricane season isn’t far away and as a state we also need to plan for that.

The last morning meeting scheduled was the Re-Open Florida Task Force industry working group related to agriculture, finance, government, healthcare, management and professional services.

The group spoke about the 41% of beds available at hospitals across the state and a breakdown of hospitalization and deaths.

They say 80 to 85% of COVID-19 deaths have been in the age range of 65 or older with underlying conditions.

An issue they’re seeing is asymptomatic staff infecting people in vulnerable facilities.

The conference call dropped several times. The Governors office told ABC 7 it was a technology issue. But before the line was dropped indefinitely they mentioned Florida farmers are working hard to get food to millions of Americans. The meeting was re-scheduled for noon. During the noon meeting the call dropped again after five minutes. We were told IT issues were at fault.

The Executive Task Force held a meeting at 2 p.m. to hear about the findings.

Many in agreement during the meeting that they want to build a set of practical rules to keep everyone safe and healthy. They hope the task force executive committee says they want industry experts to tell them what they need and medical professionals will help them them decide what the safest way of doing that is.

The task force meeting discussing agriculture and healthcare that was supposed to happen on Wednesday will convene on Thursday at 10 a.m.

Audio will be streamed at: www.thefloridachannel.org.