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Ohio Businesses Brace for Uncertainty Pandemic Brings

Nearly all of the employees at the Columbus-based Vertical Adventures have been laid off. The business owners say they're trying to preserve the company so they can bring workers back to something when the pandemic is over.
Nearly all of the employees at the Columbus-based Vertical Adventures have been laid off. The business owners say they're trying to preserve the company so they can bring workers back to something when the pandemic is over.

Thousands of Ohioans are being laid off as businesses have temporarily shut their doors to prevent the spread COVID 19.

Those businesses and state officials are doing what they can to help those workers and keep the companies afloat.

Matt Roberts stood in the parking lot of one of his indoor rock-climbing businesses, Vertical Adventures. Some of the workers he’s laid off filed into the building to get help filing for unemployment. Roberts says these have been the hardest days of his professional life because he knew if he continued to pay his employees without being able to get business coming through the door, things would be even worse.

“So we made the decision to lay off 95% of our staff to make sure there’d be this business in two months, however long, and I think that’s the big problem, nobody knows how long this is going to be," Roberts said.

He and his business partner, Carrie Roccos, are continuing to pay health insurance premiums for their laid off employees. Roccos choked up when she talked about their reactions.

“A lot of like, ‘thanks,’ and it was kinda hard to take thanks. You know this is a really close-knit business," Roccos said. "We’ve been in this business for 26 years, and a lot of these people we’ve been with for a long time. We’re really tight knit so I think the hardest thing for a lot of people was walking out the door. The folks that came over to meet with us in person, we kind of all lingered awhile. No one wanted to walk out the door.”

Matt Cole was one of those employees. “It’s tough. They have been really great about helping us get set up with unemployment. And hopefully between that and trying to find some side jobs here and there, we’ll be able to scrape by," Cole said. "My girlfriend right now has not been laid off but we know with her company we know it’s not if, but when. So we are starting to feel the burn a little bit and it’s starting to feel like our first years out of college when we were eating leftover food from old jobs that they threw away.”

What’s happening to Cole, Roccos and Roberts is happening all over the state as many businesses have been forced, often by government order, to shut down to avoid spread of the coronavirus.  

Hair salons, barbershops, spas, tattoo parlors and eat-in dining establishments have been closed. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Hall says Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent order has allowed employees who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify for unemployment to get it. And she says her agency has taken steps to reduce bureaucratic red tape.

“Eligibility has been expanded to reach that broader level of employees and individuals impacted. And also the waiting period has been eliminated," Hall said. The unemployment system, as it is currently constructed has a waiting period. Due to the declaration of emergency, we were able to adjust that waiting period, waive it, so individuals can begin receiving benefits immediately.”

Hall says the agency is also immediately redirecting workers to other jobs if they prefer. She says businesses like grocery stores and mail order warehouses need even more workers right now. It’s important to remember not all businesses have shut down during this pandemic.

Hall says if workers feel they are in a dangerous situation because their employer is staying open, she urges them to contact the agency and they will look into those concerns. “We will examine and look into the specific challenges of course. Employers have to be able to make their own decisions. But we won’t be able to come out of this unless we are all pulling together in the same direction.”

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted says employers need to make sure they are sending sick workers home. “When we get through this, and we will, and the economy will rebound, you are going to need those skilled employees. Take care of them now. Help them out. And we also have ways for you to do this.”

Husted says the state will pay for things like worker training. And that, he says, could help businesses when the economy rebounds. 

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