Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced many nonessential businesses, such as retail stores, movie theaters, and restaurants, may reopen Friday, provided they remain at 25 percent capacity. The reaction has been varied, and from what I can tell, is a microcosm of much of the rest of the country.
While most local news sources are critical of Abbott’s decision, I’ve yet to meet a resident who thought reopening was a bad idea, despite polls suggesting otherwise. One of Dallas’s most notable, outspoken residents, Mark Cuban, the Shark Tank investor and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, falls somewhere in between.
Texans Are Ready to Reopen — Depending Who You Ask
In Texas, just like the rest of America, there is the media’s portrayal of Republican decisions, and then there’s what people actually think about those decisions. Several local news sources keep pointing to a poll that suggests residents are OK with the economy remaining closed for the foreseeable future, but I’ve yet to meet a real person in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where I live who actually feels that way. From my casual observations, traffic has increased, more people are outside, and the stores are more crowded than they have been — before the economy has officially partially reopened.
Shanna Esquibel, an office manager in Fort Worth, about 30 miles outside Dallas, has been going to her office a few days a week. She and her husband have been grateful for the consistent job to support her children. She told me, “I can’t imagine what people are going through that don’t have work. It’s terrible, but I think businesses should open up and take the proper precautions.”
When I asked her to explain “proper precautions,” she said things the Centers for Disease Control has already suggested and Abbott has echoed, such as washing your hands, maintaining social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, and limiting the number of people in a business or facility.
I spoke to Kris Evans, who works in ancillary service to a local health-care system. During the shutdown, he has worked from home alongside his wife, three daughters, several dogs, and a cat. He is now slowly starting to spend more time at his workplace, and after several weeks of lockdown, he too is ready for Texas to reopen. “I think [reopening] is great,” Evans told me. “Abbott is doing it in phases. No salons or bars are open. Retail pick-up only. I personally think it’s time.”
“We’ve been ruled by fear for the last six weeks,” Evans continued. “The more we’re moving along, the more we’re learning how this is really contracted. Now we have data. Knowledge is our weapon here. Abbott is not being pressured. It’s a calculated formula: You wear a mask, you social distance, you take precautions. We have to get some movement going. ”
Texas: Beacon of Success or Failure to Avoid?
As Texas reopens its economy, it could serve as either a successful plan to imitate or a formula for failure, depending whether COVID-19 cases increase and, if so, by how much. Small businesses are suffering the most right now, and CNBC reports 7.5 million small businesses are at risk of closing.
I also spoke to Mark Cuban, an outspoken Dallas resident. Cuban has a keen eye for small businesses and often lends a hand or a helpful financial tip through platforms such as LinkedIn’s small business Q&A sessions. Some of his ideas differ from Abbott’s rollout plan, which Cuban feels could be difficult to enforce, particularly the requirement that businesses operate at only 25 percent.
“I would have two weeks of extending pick up and delivery and see what you learn about the economy and the virus in those two weeks,” he texted on his app, Dust. “I get [Texas officials] want to get some sales going but I don’t know if anyone has done an analysis of what would make small businesses move forward and allow them to at least break even.”
Cuban, who at $3.4 billion is worth the most of all Shark Tank investors and is part of the White House’s advisory group to reopen the economy, believes small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, not to be ignored in crisis. “I don’t think there is any question we will need more stimulus for small businesses who haven’t received [the Paycheck Protection Program]. The only question is whether we will need a second tranche for those who have already gotten PPP.”
According to BizJournal, the Small Business Administration approved 134,000 PPP loans for small businesses in Texas, the most of any state. On a recent podcast, Cuban said he thinks the loan application program is a mess. He suggests a special overdraft protection program for small businesses that doesn’t allow banks to approve loans financed by the Federal Reserve through the PPP but simply lets businesses continue to operate even with a negative balance as long as they keep paying their employees. This cuts out the middle man and the overdraft fees, and it simplifies and shortens the process, while giving employees and employers peace of mind.
Cuban has been an example of financial leadership and optimism while much of the rest of the country has felt fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. He ensured his event staff received wages for multiple games the NBA was forced to cancel due to COVID-19. Cuban has paid for meals for health-care workers at local hospitals and, alongside others, donated large sums of money for child care for health-care workers on the front lines.
Thanks to Cuban’s optimism, I feel certain Texas — and the rest of America — will pull through, although it might be difficult for a season. As Evans told me at the end of our conversation, “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment. We were caught on our heels, but we quickly recovered. We figured it out. We’ll rise above this, and we’ll be better for it. Just like generations before us.”