Developer Kirk Bradley urges faster moves to unlock state economy

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Kirk Bradley is CEO of Lee-Moore Capital Co. The operator of convenience stores and a developer of the Governor’s Club golf and residential project near Chapel Hill, Bradley is among the N.C. business leaders who are urging Gov. Roy Cooper to speed up plans for loosening restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He sent this letter to the governor this week.

Dear Governor Cooper:

I’d like to offer my gratitude. After your COVID-19 response policies were enacted, North Carolina is one of the best states in the country in protecting the public health of its citizens. Many North Carolinians are experiencing the pain of losing a loved one or have been otherwise adversely impacted by this pandemic, however, there is good news that speaks to our progress buried in the data. Just one month ago, modeling used by your administration predicted our state would need nearly 8,000 hospital beds and over 1,100 ICU beds, both numbers far over our available capacity.

Today, we showcase our resiliency with just 463 people hospitalized in the entire state due to this virus. While we are the 9th most populous state, we are 19th on the national list for COVID related deaths, and 38th in COVID deaths per 1,000 citizens. Though your announced testing initiative will inevitably show more positive cases, many of these cases will not be of the serious variety and will only reflect the fact that more cases are being successfully identified with a robust testing protocol.

This was possible through a collaborative effort, coming from health officials working with our health care systems. Thousands of health care workers have been putting their lives at risk every day over the past month, and we cannot thank them enough. In addition, the citizens and businesses of North Carolina are to be commended for following the Stay At Home Order. These combined efforts have been essential to the state’s progress through this pandemic – we have flattened the curve, slowed the rate of acceleration, and have prevented our hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID cases.

Now, it is time to turn our efforts to opening our economy. But in order to do this effectively we need a measured course correction on the previously announced reopening calendar. Undefined timeframes and benchmarks risk additional uncertainty in an already stressful environment. First, we need to relieve our state’s employers from the looming devastating economic impacts. Secondly, we must quickly identify the challenges that employees and employers will be facing in order to return to the workplace safely. And finally, we are long overdue to openly collaborate the reopening process with the business leaders of our state – the leaders that have spent decades working to help make North Carolina the best state in the country to do business.

You have proposed a very measured three-phase plan. But in order to not do further damage to the economy, we must let the lockdown order expire on May 8th. While thorough, the current three phase plan is not achievable, because there is no measurement of success. The data is not yet available, and goals will become less attainable as testing ramps up – and according to your own modeling, social distancing has already flattened the curve, allowing the health care system to better absorb an influx of patients.

Other states are able to do this effectively. For instance, Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis began reopening this week, noting state modeling which revealed that an arbitrary lockdown extension of two to four weeks wouldn’t cause a peak in COVID-19 patients to be any less severe – it would only push that peak further down the calendar.

If our current trend of protecting hospital capacity continues, we must allow Phase II to start by May 18th or redefine the allowed uses in Phases I, II and III, such that most of our business are able to safely open by a date certain of May 18th or earlier. This would allow restaurants to open with new safety requirements while providing them a chance to increase their revenues and harness the opportunity to keep their doors open. According to data released by the National Restaurant Association, just 30% of restaurant operators are expected to survive a shutdown of three months, while 72% will weather the challenges of one month. We should expediently act to neutralize these expected losses. These restaurants need a date certain such as May 11th or 18th in order to plan safety protocols, remobilize and train staff hired and trained and food ordered to open safely for their staff and customers.

Secondly, our economy now has higher unemployment figures than we did during the Great Depression and getting back to work is going to pose more challenges than choosing which social distancing protocols to enforce. The shutdown has created numerous unexamined challenges surrounding child care due to schools, day care and summer camps being closed. A solution to childcare is essential if we are going to have the productive workforce necessary to our economic activity back to and beyond pre-COVID-19 levels. Entrepreneurs that run vital vocational learning and recreational businesses for our children, including dance, martial arts studios, community centers, YMCA’s and the Boys and Girls Clubs must have the opportunity to flourish once again, no later than Phase II or May 11th or 18th as a date certain. Our workforce will need help with these expenses with school not in session, and these entities need guidance and flexibility, both of which are currently non-existent.

Finally, it will take some time to get both the worker and consumer muscle memory back, so let’s get started. It is no coincidence that our state, over the last few decades has become the best state in the nation to live and work. We have one of the best workforces and our employers are seond to none. As businesses begin emerging from this lockdown they stand ready to showcase the resiliency that has landed North Carolina at the top of many attractive lists. A wise leader once stated, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” I implore you to expand and increase collaborative efforts with your Business Advisory Council so that our state can leverage the great business minds in North Carolina to assist you in this reopening effort. It will take a combination of many ideas to ensure we get employment and the economy back where it needs to be.

I hope you will avail any and all assistance on this important task ahead.

Sincerely,

Kirk J. Bradley

Chairman, President and CEO

Lee-Moore Capital Co.

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