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Voices: ‘Non-essential’ businesses need your support to thrive

Ronni Hannaman

Voices

Ronni Hannaman
Courtesy photo

CARSON CITY, Nev. — No one wants this pandemic to go away more than the once robust “non-essential” business community that, up until March 20, had no idea they were “non-essential.”

What was deemed essential to our everyday quality of life was deemed non-essential by government, whose every job was deemed essential whether they were to report to work or not. Essential, too, were the manufacturing and construction trades.

Even the medical community was not spared from this term, as hospitals were only opening their doors to COVID-19 patients, with some hospitals in the more rural communities seeing almost none, and doctors were not able to schedule elective surgeries, usually the money makers.

While construction workers were busily at work and manufacturers continued to operate, those in the hospitality and retail industry found themselves completely shut out of the workforce without means to pay bills until the federal government stepped in.

The self-employed within the beauty and health industries had to immediately cancel long-standing appointments. Casinos, the backbone for tax collection for school funding, were to shut down operations immediately, and that mandated shutdown will affect school funding for years as they scramble to make up the shortfall.

But you know all that, since much of Carson City became a ghost town and as we were encouraged to go on a forced sabbatical in our homes praying for the passing of the pandemic. What we had taken for granted was no more.

Retail parking lots were empty, casino lights were dark, restaurants could only provide limited take-out, schools were closed. Those who had read “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand saw the effect of a government shutdown predicted in the novel. We were becoming hermits — although the internet kept us connected and streaming services became our entertainment.

Then came the realization the hospitality and retail trades were, indeed, essential to Nevada’s employment and tax base. Reaching the highest unemployment figures in the country and seeing the government bottom line shrink was an eye-opener to government accountants, and it seemed there was a new modicum of respect for these heretofore unsung sectors.

Those of us living outside of Clark County often lament we wish “what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas,” but as the tax revenue generator of the state, we saw what the employment stats and tax revenue shortfall this powerful worldwide acclaimed tourism city had on our future economic well-being.

And, we saw the other side: the highest spread of COVID-19 in the state, mostly emanating out of Clark County, that will affect the continued well-being of the rest of the state as the governor called for a continuation of Phase 2 on June 29 until the virus is contained.

If Las Vegas shuts down, will the rest of the state suffer the consequences?

On June 24, the governor mandated all must wear face coverings when in public places. Non-essential businesses already in compliance were mandated to turn away customers who might refuse to wear a covering, thus suddenly taking on the unwelcome role of first-line enforcers.

The rules of good customer service were to be waived as Nevada is now considered to have the highest COVID-19 cases per capita. If the mandates are not followed by customers and NV OSHA is in the building, this fragile respite from shut-down and stay-at-home orders could easily and quite suddenly be reinstated and the business shuttered or fined.

The business community must heed the edicts of the governor or be forced out of business, for the Nevada Constitution allows for these types of demands citing the governor has the “supreme executive power of this state.”

The mental and financial cost of this pandemic cannot be measured on the non-essential business community and their employees as they struggle against all odds — including not being able to find needed products — to maintain a germ-free environment in their brick-and-mortar establishment, adding to the cost of doing business as customers are increasingly turning to online shopping as the most convenient and safest method of staying safe and hassle-free.

Thanks to online shopping, Carson City recently reported no downturn in the sales tax figures, citing they were ahead of last year.

While online shopping does add sales tax to the government general fund, if we lose our brick-and-mortar stores, we lose our character — the character we have worked so hard to attain and millions of tax dollars to gain. We also lose many jobs.

As the legislature argues along party lines as to the next move, let us hope struggling businesses will not be hit with yet another tax increase — for when it comes to looking for more revenue, the business community becomes the top target.

Although the catch phrase is, “We are all in this together,” that may be true when it comes to being able to catch the virus, but it is not true when it comes to various employment sectors deemed “non-essential” enough to be shut down on a whim, affecting thousands.

While the purse strings may be held by government, it is the pennies collected from the taxpayer that fill the always hollow purse and unless the private sector is working, those pennies will be few and far between.

We urge you to support local businesses and wear your face covering. Many of us are totally uncomfortable doing so, but in the end, it is a small price to pay for staying healthy and righting this listing economic ship, no matter the politics.

Ronni Hannaman is the Executive Director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. This Voices column first published July 10 in the Nevada Appeal, a sister publication of the NNBW.