Wisconsin Businesses Urge Legislators to OK Reopening Plan

Wisconsin’s powerful chamber of commerce urged legislators Thursday to adopt its business reopening plan, telling an Assembly committee that Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order is crushing the economy and that the state has the coronavirus under control.

The plan creates an algorithm that takes into account the local infection rate, health care capacity, population density and other factors to determine what limitations should be placed on a business. All businesses could open, but their operations would be limited based on local factors calculated under the model.

Companies would be given a risk factor of minimal, moderate or substantial. The higher the risk, the more precautions businesses would have to take.

Representatives of the restaurant, tavern and other industries told the committee they can’t survive another month under the stay-at-home order. They said they’re afraid Evers will extend his order through July or later.

“We are at an extinction level event for small businesses and restaurants,” Kristine Hillmer, president of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, told the committee in person.

Committee Democrats complained that Republicans stacked the meeting with business representatives and didn’t invite any laborers or health care officials to speak. They warned that reopening businesses too soon would lead to a spike in infections.

“What happens when businesses open too early and workers don’t feel comfortable?” Rep. Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee said.

Republicans countered that Evers’ standards for re-opening are so high the state will never meet them and the WMC plan is scientific and provides a way to mitigate risks. Rep. Michael Schraa asked Mike Nikolai, president of Waupaca Foundry, and Troy Berg, CEO of Dane Manufacturing, which produces metal products, whether their workers have complained about staying open.

Berg said his managers keep employees up-to-date about best practices to prevent infections between every shift and no one has quit. Nikolai said his workers are so scared about losing their jobs that attendance has actually improved.

“If you want zero risk, then you’ll have zero economic activity,” Nikolai said.