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As New York talks reopening, local businesses are raring to go

East Aurora real estate broker Jerry Thompson says he would be thrilled to see Buffalo Niagara housing and construction markets open back up as Gov. Andrew Cuomo moves toward a phased reopening of the state's economy.

"We're ready now to do that," said Thompson, owner of Century 21 Gold Standard in East Aurora. "We certainly hope we’re part of the first phase."

But Buffalo craft brewer Tim Herzog, who suspects he had Covid-19 based on his symptoms during an illness the last two weeks of March, is in no rush.

Herzog, who was not tested for the virus, said his business, Flying Bison Brewing Company, likely won't reopen until a later phase, when bars and restaurants receive clearance.

"As long as everybody pays attention and keeps that safe distance, it’ll be nice to see things start to slowly open up," he said.

But, he stressed, "slowly is the word." The last thing Herzog wants to see, he said, is a second wave of the illness sweeping through the region.

Cuomo on Sunday outlined a two-phase plan to reopen businesses in New York State, once it's considered safe to do so. Cuomo said businesses such as construction and manufacturing activities "with low risk" would be the first types of businesses to resume.

A second phase would involve a wider range of businesses, based on factors such as how essential the businesses is and how risky it would be for them to reopen. Cuomo said he envisioned a two-week gap between the phases.

The exact timing of the reopening is still unclear. Cuomo on Monday said the reopening could occur in some places as early as May 15, but that it would be later in other parts of the state.

"I will extend them in many parts of the state," Cuomo said. "But in many regions, you could make the case we can unpause on May 15. But we have to be smart about it."

When it happens here, the plan means that developers and construction workers will likely be among the first to go back to work.

William Paladino, CEO of Ellicott Development Co., said he thinks construction workers can maintain the necessary social distancing rules and other safety measures.

"Manufacturing and construction, I certainly don't see why they can't stay separate enough," Paladino said.

Peter Coleman, executive director of the Buffalo Niagara Manufacturing Alliance, said many members are eager to get back to regular production.

The alliance surveyed its members and found about 90% of them are operating in some form, Coleman said. Their average production capacity is between 60% and 75%. But some manufacturers are not operating because they weren't deemed essential.

Coleman said manufacturing groups in the state have developed and implemented standards and best practices for keeping workers safe on the job. Those can be used as a guide for other industries, he said.

"I don’t know why we’ve got to wait three weeks to make this happen," he said. "Everybody’s saying, we’re going to wait until the pause [ends]. I think we can demonstrate with some expediency that we can operate."

Local home builder Phil Nanula also is raring to go.

"We feel encouraged that construction is one of the ones that is going to be deemed essential first," said Nanula, CEO of Essex Homes of Western New York, one of the region's leading homebuilders. "We’re ready for it. We have pent-up business."

But Paul Ciminelli, owner of Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., was more cautious.

"As much as we would like to see all businesses up and running at full capacity as quickly as possible, a phased approach is smart and necessary," he said. "It’s difficult to have downtime on development projects at this time of year because it can’t be made up in the winter months, but the health and wellness of our communities must be our absolute priority."

But Charles "Sam" Gurney III, president of Gurney Becker & Bourne, said he was comfortable with whatever decision Cuomo makes.

"I have every confidence in Cuomo and how he's handled this whole pandemic situation," Gurney said. "If he says that it's safe enough to go to work, then that's enough for me."

Nagendra Raina, CEO of Buffalo Games, which makes board games and puzzles, said the company was "relieved" to hear about the governor's reopening plan, and hopes it will be allowed to return to operating soon, while following safety guidelines.

But Raina said he also hopes Cuomo will empathize with Buffalo Games' "sense of urgency."

"Our competitors are producing puzzles and our retailers will start purchasing from them, causing irreversible damage to our leadership position in the category," he said. "We wouldn’t even consider opening our facility unless we were fully assured of our low-risk stature, given the physical distance between our work centers that already is beyond social distancing measures recommended."

Dottie Gallagher, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said Cuomo's two-phase plans looks reasonable to her.

"I think as a kickoff, to say we're going to start with these two categories" – manufacturing and construction – "I think that makes sense, and to wait two weeks to see what impact it has," she said.

Gallagher said different members have different views on quickly the state's businesses ought to reopen. She feels the CDC's reopening guideline, based on the hospitalization rate declining for 14 straight days, was a good foundation. "What we don't want to do is open so quickly that we wind up having to shut everything down again, because that would be 10 times worse," she said.

"It's a real tight balance between how you manage the economic impact and the public safety impact," she said. "I think we have to go as fast as we possibly can but following the science, which means getting ready."

A.J. Baynes, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, said some smaller retailers are questioning why they aren't allowed to have customers in their stores, when they see crowds inside of supermarkets.

"I personally think it's a good idea to open up in stages to protect the safety of the community and the workforce at large," Baynes said of Cuomo's plan.

"It's promising to see there's a light at the end of the tunnel here," he said. "I think the steps that were taken, while some people might have viewed them as drastic, were probably necessary for the greater good."

"The hopes are that our region will be included in the reopening and get the first phase going May 16. We don't know yet if we will be included in that," Baynes said.

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