ROCHESTER — Bob Duffy said he won’t be making the decision on when more of the Finger Lakes economic development region’s businesses can reopen from a shutdown that has caused thousands of layoffs across the state.
That is ultimately Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call, Duffy said in a web conference with reporters from the region on Tuesday.
Cuomo tapped Duffy, his former lieutenant governor, last week to lead the Finger Lakes region’s reopening effort.
Duffy, currently president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, said his charge is to “ask questions, listen and pass on to the governor’s team.”
Cuomo has outlined a phased plan to reopen the state, starting with the construction and manufacturing industries, which he said present lower risks when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus.
That reopening could happen in some regions as early as May 15, Duffy noted.
Cuomo announced later Tuesday that he has created a New York Forward Re-Opening Advisory Board to help guide the state’s reopening strategy. The board includes over 100 business, community and civic leaders from industries across the state.
Duffy said he has been speaking with representatives of business and government, as well as health officials in the nine counties in the Finger Lakes economic development region to get their input.
Everyone wants the economy restarted, Duffy said, noting the economic free-fall caused by the shutdown of so many businesses has left gaping holes in local and state budgets because of declining revenues.
“Every day a business is closed there’s no sales tax for the state or the county,” said Duffy, who is also a former Rochester mayor and police chief.
He said state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is projecting a $13 billion gap in the state budget.
“That just grows by every day, week and month,” Duffy said, adding governments and school districts will have to make cuts, even if additional federal dollars come to New York to help address shortfalls.
The challenge, he said, is bringing people back to work while minimizing the risks of employees getting infected. Both employees and employers share that concern.
Duffy expects that after construction and manufacturing get back to work on May 15, or somewhere near that date, another round of business openings will come about two weeks later.
His suggestion to businesses is that they begin preparing for reopening, including outlining the steps they need to take to protect customers and employees.
But he believes businesses should examine whether they need to bring everyone back into the office.
“I think we reduce the infection rate by keeping remote working going,” he said.
Duffy said Cuomo has ably managed the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 17,000 statewide, with New York City the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.
“He does not want to stay closed, but he does not want to lose more lives,” Duffy said adding that Cuomo is relying on data to make his decisions.
At his press conference on Tuesday in Syracuse, where Cuomo was visiting Upstate Medical Center, part of the State University system, the governor concurred. Data, not emotion, must be the basis for decisions to restart the economy.
“We want to do it, but we want to do it without infecting more people” and putting additional burdens on the health system, Cuomo said.