Delaware City Council on April 27 heard a report on how city businesses have fared during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – and on the issues they’ll face as Ohio begins to reboot its economy.

Gov. Mike DeWine earlier that day announced a plan to gradually restart Ohio’s economy, including a May 12 date for allowing nonessential retail businesses to open.

Sean Hughes, Delaware’s economic-development director, described findings from a survey of city businesses and said a task force would be formed to help businesses with their concerns as the economy gets going.

Hughes later said the survey was completed April 21.

He told council the survey included a good representation of different sectors, with respondents forthcoming on how they were doing and measures they have taken.

Forty businesses responded to the survey, he said.

Citywide, 85% of businesses surveyed stayed open in some capacity and 15% closed, he said.

A third of those that closed did so voluntarily because of Ohio’s stay-at-home order, he said.

Of the businesses still open, a third had between 75% and 100% of employees still working on-site, he said, and another third had between 75% and 100% of employees working remotely.

A chart accompanying Hughes’ presentation said 95% of industrial businesses still open had no layoffs; 36.11% of overall businesses had no layoffs; and 36.1% laid off half to all of their staffs.

Of the businesses’ top three concerns, two were employees’ financial welfare and their safety, physical health and mental health, he said. The remaining concern was impact on the overall economy.

“The staff is what makes their businesses, often in most cases, and they want them to be healthy,” Hughes told council. “They want them to come back when they reopen.”

A number of businesses weren’t set up for carryout, delivery or shipping, Hughes said, and “had to quickly adjust to a new way of doing business.”

He said 41.2% of the businesses surveyed could ship or deliver all of their products or services, and 50% could deliver more than 75% of their products and services.

“The survey was a good instrument to give us information going into the next phase of our reopening,” Hughes told council.

Members of the city’s business-recovery task force will be appointed, Hughes said April 28. He said he is waiting on approval for his recommendations on the appointments.

He told council members that business owners and community partners would be well-represented on the task force.

One concern for businesses moving forward is possible disruption of the supply chain, Hughes said.

“If they can’t access the things that they need to do business, that puts a strain on their operations, and they can’t do business efficiently and they can’t make money,” he said.

Other concerns are finances and access to capital liquidity; employee stress; consumer confidence and spending; and a possible global recession, he said.

Hughes said fewer than half of the surveyed businesses tried to access an Economic Injury Disaster Loan through the U.S. Small Business Administration, and more than half tried to access the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program. Both are federal programs that exhausted their initial allotments, he said.

Consumer confidence in particular will be a focus of the task force, Hughes said.

He said a consumer-research company called Resonate had found “that 65% of consumers said that even if businesses were to open today, they wouldn’t step foot back into somebody’s business or go eat and dine in a restaurant.

“That’s a pretty powerful statement, a pretty powerful statistic,” he said. “It’s something we’re going to have to try to work to overcome so that our businesses can be successful moving forward.”

Also during their April 27 meeting, council members approved a final development plan for the Delaware General Health District’s new office building on about 9.4 acres at 470 S. Sandusky St.

Health commissioner Shelia Hiddleson earlier said the health district was outgrowing its location at 1, 3 and 5 W. Winter St. as the county’s population boom has expanded the district’s services.

She also earlier said state law wouldn’t allow the district’s operating-levy funds to be used.

Instead, she said, the Ohio Revised Code has allowed the district to accumulate savings from some of the fees it charges since 2000, during a time when the county’s growth accelerated the rate of savings.

Hiddleson told council that’s still the plan, but the pandemic “has brought to light the number of dollars it takes to run this type of a response.”

She earlier said the health district was in daily contact with every coronavirus patient in the district and was contacting people the patients had been in contact with. That workload will increase as the number of patients increases, she said.

She told council, “Please let the public know we will not be using levy dollars to build this building.

“I cannot promise anything other than I can tell you that is not our plan. ... We’re hopeful we’ll never have to ask taxpayers for additional dollars. ... We are the least expensive levy in the entire county. Our levy is about $15 per $100,000 valuation,” she said.

Council also approved a final development plan for a mixed-use commercial office building on about 2.6 acres at Coughlin’s Crossing, east of U.S. Route 23 and west of Coughlin Lane.

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