May 8, 2020 Alpharetta - Connor Herrington (left) and Luke Brown prepares for a curbside delivery at Comeback Vinyl, a new and used independent record store in downtown Alpharetta, on Friday, May 8, 2020. Retail has suffered during the pandemic, and record shops are no exception. Some posted GoFundMe campaigns to help them stay afloat and pay employees, some offered mail order and curbside pickup and now a few are slowly reopening their doors to customers. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Jolt: Metro Atlanta businesses warn of a long economic slog

Metro Atlanta businesses warn of a long, fraught economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. And the broad majority are angling for tax breaks for the most struggling industries.

That’s the assessment from a survey quietly released by the Metro Atlanta Chamber over the weekend to gauge the challenges ahead as more businesses begin to resume operations.

It was conducted by the chamber’s RESTORE economic recovery initiative, led by GE Gas Power chief executive John Rice, and involved more than 300 business executives from small businesses and corporate giants.

The survey found most businesses expect dampened demand and reduced employment for more than six months, and that roughly three-quarters see social-distancing rules and limitations on gatherings as crucial.

Nearly all of respondents say that restoring consumer confidence and jump-starting businesses is the most important issue for policy-makers to address, and about three-quarters say they should prioritize business tax benefits that could be “realized immediately for the most impacted businesses.”

The top business challenge the firms cited is meeting the demand for more capital to pay bills and restart operations. And they say sharing information on business response, contact tracing and diagnostic protocols are seen as important to restoring economic confidence.

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The sobering attitude squares with comments made by Steven Mnuchin on Sunday. The treasury secretary said that things were “probably going to get worse before they get better,” but he predicted a rebound later in the year.

After business shutdowns brought the economy to a near-halt in April, figures out last week put the jobless rate at 14.7%, the highest level since the 1940s. Mnuchin, interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” was asked whether the country was looking at a “real” unemployment rate — including those who are underemployed — of 25%.

“We could be,” he said, predicting a “very, very bad second quarter.” But the Treasury secretary said he expected improvement in the third and fourth quarters, and that “next year is going to be a great year.”

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett also predicted unemployment would hit a “trough” in May or June, with unemployment rates “north of 20%.” Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” he called the coronavirus crisis the biggest negative shock to the job market since World War II.

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue has followed the example set by colleague Kelly Loeffler, announcing on Friday that he had stopped investing in individual corporate stocks.

Perdue’s most recent transaction report, required by Senate rules, shows that no companies’ stocks were purchased on his behalf after early April. Instead, his advisers closed out the month selling about $5.6 million in securities and invested the money instead in exchange-trade and mutual funds.

“This was a personal decision Senator Perdue and his wife made to avoid any confusion about their retirement savings, and they did so voluntarily,” his spokeswoman Cherie Gillan said in a statement.

Loeffler announced a similar divestment move in April, and her changes were reflected in a report filed earlier this month.

Both senators have been criticized by watchdog groups and political opponents for stock trades made during the coronavirus pandemic. Perdue and Loeffler denied wrong-doing and said that their transactions were handled by advisers who operated independently and without their input.

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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at a luncheon at the Atlanta Press Club in Atlanta, Ga., on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. (Casey Sykes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appeared on CNN on Sunday to denounce the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery as a “lynching of an African American man.” She also addressed how she would have approached reopening Georgia’s economy.

Bottoms acknowledged shuttered businesses would have to reopen before a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, since such a treatment is not expected until next year, but she said a more “thoughtful” strategy was needed.

“So we’ll see over the next couple weeks what this massive health experiment (and) what the results are in our state,” she said. More from the mayor:

“I don’t think that the way to reopen Georgia and stimulate the economy is to send the people out who can least afford to get sick.

“I think there are ways we could have done it, whether it be opening up medical offices and dental offices and places that perhaps have access to PPE and doing a truly thoughtful, phased approach to reopening, not just in our state but across our country, but it’s very difficult to have those decisions put forth when we are getting really what I call erratic leadership from the White House and no clear blueprint of how we move forward thoughtfully as a country.”

Meanwhile, conservative voices have increasingly rallied behind Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to jumpstart parts of the economy as a template for other states. 

Laura Ingraham was among the pundits who highlighted Kemp’s announcement over the weekend that confirmed cases of coronavirus hospitalizations had dropped to a one-month low. “Bad news for the Left. Didn’t need to delay reopening,” she tweeted

Yes, Georgia may fast become the GOP’s example for how to phase-in the economy -- though we may not know for weeks whether his decision has led to a spike in cases.

Still, we must note that some of these same voices extolling Kemp’s decision were conspicuously silent a few weeks ago when President Donald Trump was bashing the decision. 

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In the aftermath of two arrests in the Ahmaud Arbery killing, much attention has been given to House Bill 426, which would restore Georgia’s hate crime law. The bill sponsored by state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, a former prosecutor, passed the House last year, but remains mired in the Senate.

House Speaker David Ralston made clear he wants Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and the Senate to take the measure up when the Legislature reconvenes in June. Ralston gave it a significant nudge in a WSB-TV interview.

“Do we want to have this type of despicable act occur in our state and not have this act on our books? And not try to put it on the books?” Ralston asked.

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The possibility that a majority of Georgians won’t be selecting a GOP for the June 9 primaries is growing. According to Georgia Votes, 50.2% of absentee ballot requests are for Republican primary contests, but that number has been shrinking day by day. Requests for Democratic ballots stand at 45.9%, and 3.8% of voters have requested nonpartisan ballots, which cover mostly judicial races.

Nearly 1.3 million people have applied to vote by mail – far more than the number of total ballots cast in the 2016 primary. That number, of course, is wholly separate from the one that actually matters – i.e., the number of ballots mailed in to local election offices.

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A federal lawsuit wants it made clear that Georgia ballots postmarked by election day should be counted, a change that could save thousands of votes from being rejected during the coronavirus pandemic, according to our AJC colleague Mark Niesse:

The lawsuit challenges a Georgia law that requires absentee ballots to arrive in county election offices by 7 p.m. on election day. Ballots that show up late are discarded, as in 2018 when about 3,800 ballots weren’t counted because they were received after election day, according to state election data.

The legal move draws on a U.S. Supreme Court decision we told you about last week, which took up how mail-in ballots in Wisconsin’s April 7 primary were to be counted.

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A serious fracture may be afoot among Republicans in Cobb County, which is rapidly turning blue. According to the Marietta Daily Journal, former state GOP chair Sue Everhart has endorsed Larry Savage over incumbent Republican Mike Boyce, who is seeking re-election as chairman of the Cobb County Commission. From the newspaper:

Everhart's opinion on Boyce is that he doesn't make decisions on what is best for all of Cobb, but with what is best for simply one section of Cobb.

"And I'm not sure that he's a Republican," she said. "I don't dislike him. I don't dislike his wife. I've got neighbors supporting Boyce. I'm supporting Larry, and I intend to see every neighbor in my neighborhood to see if I can get them on board with Larry.”

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The Dalton Daily Citizen-News reports that federal authorities have denied aid to Murray County as it recovers from the tornado that killed eight people on Easter Sunday. State officials are assisting with an appeal of the decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The newspaper reports that the Salvation Army is still sponsoring about 20 families left homeless by the tornado, housing them in local hotels.

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The Rev. Raphael Warnock, a candidate for U.S. Senate, is now a divorced man, according to his ex-wife’s attorney. The records are sealed and both the pastor of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and former wife Ouleye were tight-lipped about the agreement. Warnock, endorsed by top Democrats, is one of 20 candidates seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

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Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has introduced a new program that provides federal assistance to Georgia vegetable farmers by buying produce directly for them to use in various food programs, the AJC’s Christopher Quinn reported:

The USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program will purchase $461 million in fresh fruits and vegetables, $317 million in a variety of dairy products, $258 million in meat products and $175 million in a combination box of fresh produce, dairy or meat products. Suppliers will package these products into family-sized boxes, which will be distributed by food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits from May 15 to mid-June.

Georgia’s farmers sell about half of their crop to restaurants and non-grocery food services like school cafeterias, many of which have closed because of the spread of COVID-19.

“This is a new, innovative approach to provide critical support to American farmers and families, and USDA moved as expeditiously as federal procurement rules allow to stand up the program and solicit offers,” Perdue said in a press release.

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State Sen. Zahra Karinshak is the second Democratic candidate in the hotly contested Seventh District congressional race to go up on TV. Her campaign said that this “six-figure ad buy” includes spots on broadcast and cable channels. Viewers will see one of two ads.

One Tough Mother” addresses Karinshak’s background as an Air Force officer, prosecutor and lawmaker, all while being a mom of two daughters. “Bullies” describes the candidate as the best in a crowded field to go to work in Washington.

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