The goal of the 26-page report (see below) prepared by a Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce COVID recovery task force is “to get people back to work as quickly as possible,” Chamber CEO Jack Lavin said in an interview. “We can accelerate that, accelerate our economic recovery, while paying attention to safety, equity and trust.”
The last of that group—trust—leads the chamber's five-point reopening plan. “Non-essential employees who have been working remotely, as those who may soon be called back, need to feel confident they safely can return,” the report states. “Business leaders need to clearly communicate what steps they have taken . . . and be honest about what they currently know and what they don’t.”
That in part means better communication from the Chicago Transit ity and Metra about what steps they’re taking to sanitize their systems and keep them virus-free, Lavin said. “They’re doing things, but if they’re not telling people, people won’t believe it,” he said. “They really need to communicate with the business community.”
Businesses must be flexible, the report says. That could mean working in varying shifts so everyone is not in the office or commuting at the same time. It also means providing better options for those who drive, bike or share vehicles to get to work, with the chamber already talking to downtown garages about offering discounted rates for a while, according to Lavin.
Longer-run, it means “investing in critical infrastructure,” the report says, specifically recommending that the city continue at full speed with the pending $8.5 billion terminal expansion and renovation plan at O’Hare International Airport as well as the Create freight-rail decongestion plan. Offering child care also is a priority, the report says, as is assuring that everyone who needs a COVID-19 test can get one, in some cases with low, subsidized fees.
The report also underlines the need to buy and hire locally—it includes a “pledge” to do so—and recommends a series of steps to help small and disadvantaged businesses, including refocused job-training programs, regulatory relief and more partnerships between small and big business.
But a related recommendation to “accelerate zoning and planning approval for major projects like the 78, the Obama Presidential Center, One Central, Lincoln Yards and the Michael Reese Hospital site development” comes despite intense opposition to some of those proposals, which progressives say use up money that would be better spent on social needs and could spur gentrification.
One other proposal is that governments provide “clear guidelines and constant communications” about what can reopen when and under what circumstances. “I think the mayor and governor generally have done a good job. But they need to be clearer,” Lavin said. And the strong sense in the task force was that “we need to accelerate the reopening.” With new medical data arriving all the time, officials need to constantly review and upgrade their rules, he added.
The chamber also wants “fair property tax reform,” defined by Lavin as “not shifting the burden” to a business community that already is reeling. And the report calls for limits on business liability for workers who become infected. Details of the latter still are being drafted, but Lavin said his group likely could live with something like the statewide compromise that was worked on workers' compensation, in which firms that show they provided protective gear such as masks and otherwise followed required standards will not be held liable.
The chamber task force had three co-chairs: Robin Brown, vice president at Ingredion; ComEd CEO Joseph Dominguez; and CIBC U.S. Vice Chair Bruce Lubin.