By: Steve Scruggs
Over the past few business days, LEDC staff has been calling our 135 member companies getting updates on how their businesses are being affected by COVID-19.  This isn’t a health care update, but more of a current state of union with regards to our member businesses. 

We believe communication is extremely important in times of uncertainty and hope this update will be helpful to non-LEDC members in the community.  Here is the feedback, by industry, we have received to date:

  • Office Users, Service Providers & Professional Services   – The majority of our members’ office employees are working remotely with the exception of one or two employees in the office, or accounting employees who spread out in their offices.  There seems to be little disruption in the ability to work remotely and we haven’t heard anyone talk about a significant productivity dip.  Some have contracts being put on hold, but it sounds like the majority are still working on current projects.  
  • Financial Institutions – Most have closed their lobbies but are still taking appointments in the office and drive-thru’s are open.  Most report still being busy on the commercial lending side, are closing loans and opening new accounts.  One institution is giving a $1,200 bonus to employees that make $45,000 or less.
  • Health Care – No one is more affected and on the front lines than our health care professionals.  Procurement is a HUGE issue for masks, shields, gowns, ventilators, and many other types of supplies.  There are a number of LEDC manufacturers, distributors, and entrepreneurs that are assisting our health care professionals to creatively address the procurement issues.  Labor is also an issue with regards to protection, adding staff, around the clock preparation, etc. 
  • Manufacturing – If you are a food manufacturer in Lakeland (and thankfully we have a lot of them) you are having a hard time filling orders; you are extremely busy.  Other manufacturers in Lakeland are either extremely busy or “business as usual.”  This sector is very concerned about the Stimulus bill affecting its workforce.
  • Distribution – If you are in the food distribution business you are extremely busy and most likely adding employees (we have a lot of these).  Consumer goods distribution is a different story, if you are Amazon, you are extremely busy, if you are in the furniture industry, business is slow.  One employer is increasing hourly worker pay $3.00 an hour through April.  This sector is extremely concerned about the Stimulus bill affecting their workforce.  
  • Utilities – Lakeland Electric, TECO Peoples Gas, and Spectrum are all reporting business as usual.  Many communities around the country are experiencing broadband issues with regards to bandwidth for people working remotely or from home.  This is not the case in Lakeland as it appears the system is holding up well (this is not a political statement😊). 
  • Real Estate – Brokers are still working on current projects.  National and regional company projects are a still a go, ie., Summit Consulting, Publix Corporate Office, Amazon Cargo and Warehouse projects, etc.  Statewide and local real estate projects are more complicated with the recent passage of city and county stay at home ordinances.  Specifically, issues arise with city and county permitting, inspections, etc.  Owners are having to consider offering rent reductions and extensions and will be facing more serious issues every 30 days when the rent comes due again.  Local restaurants are hardest hit, followed by consumer goods retailers.
  • Hospitality – Member hotels are reporting 20% occupancy or less.  These facilities may be used by health care professionals in the near future.  This industry is experiencing significant layoff’s and potential closings. 
  • Construction – Almost all contractors we spoke to are very busy and continue to work on current projects.  Local contractors are still moving forward with new projects such as: NOAA’s expansion at Lakeland Linder, FSC and SEU projects, speculative warehouses, etc.   
  • Entrepreneurs – This sector has been hit hard.  Catapult alone lost 25 members a week ago.  Catapult has extended free rent to its 140+ members for the month of April.  Many are working from home and a handful are still working out of our space.  A Cow Named Moo closed last week. 
  • Government – City and County officials have no current plans to shut down beyond what has already occurred regarding parks, etc. 

Lakeland and our business community will survive this crisis.  We will do it with empathy, confidence and ingenuity.  LEDC, Catapult and City leaders are already working on a project we are calling, “The Other Side.”  This proposed recovery plan will help ensure that Lakeland is prepared to deal with whatever we might face on the other side of this crisis.  Our goal will be to get our businesses back on their feet as soon as possible.  Until then, please keep our health care workers who are on the front lines, and those who are sick, in your thoughts and prayers.