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Coronavirus

Businesses File To Be Essential Amid State Stay-at-home Order

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Apr 6, 2020
The head of Wilmington-based retailer Outdoor Equipped wants to make sure the firm is ready to do business through any restrictions that may come now and in the future.

That’s why Outdoor Equipped has applied through the N.C. Department of Revenue (NCDOR) to be deemed an essential business, said Chad Hankinson, president and CEO of Outdoor Equipped.

The company is one of more than 3,600 across the state that have filed with NCDOR, the state agency taking applications from businesses excluded from the list of essential businesses in a recent executive order by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Those filings have come since Cooper issued his stay-at-home order March 27, which required some businesses to cease operations that were deemed nonessential. 

Those with businesses excluded from the list of essential businesses in the executive order can direct requests to be included to NCDOR, said Schorr Johnson, director of public affairs for the state agency.

But many businesses submitting requests "were already deemed essential (construction, for instance) under the plain language of the Executive Order and were seeking certainty," Johnson said.

Businesses that have made a request to the NCDOR to be included as a COVID-19 essential business or operation may continue to operate until that request is acted upon, Johnson said. 

New Hanover County, however, issued more restrictive orders for some businesses that went into effect March 30.

"A business deemed non-essential by the county orders, but appealing to be considered 'essential' through the state, would still have to follow the more stringent guidelines," county officials stated in an email Monday. "If the county was more restrictive in its order than the state, the county order would be followed and vice-versa."

The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce has had many businesses, both members and nonmembers, reach out about the nonessential and essential business topic, said Natalie English, president and CEO of the chamber.

“I will say that, the governor's order made it clear that if a business can practice social distancing in the course of business, then they can be considered essential. Now, that then weaves into local orders, in which case some businesses that might not be explicitly spelled out in the governor's order, then are explicitly spelled out in our local order,” English said. “And even those businesses, I've been told by the city and county that, again, it's about social distancing. And so if a business can go through their daily course of business and maintain social distancing, then that’s sort of a built-in assumption."

That’s where the chamber has been educating its members, as well as helping connect them with lawyers who may have more answers to a company's questions, English said.

The chamber has helped businesses in various sectors work through the restrictions of both the state and county, including retailers, restaurants, auto dealerships and even some manufacturers, she said.

"There are there been manufacturers who have reached out who make a product that on the surface doesn't seem like it would be an essential business, and yet they make a product, a compound, chemical or something that goes into essential business," English said.

It's been a case-by-case scenario, she said, on top of working with local and state partners to help.

Outdoor Equipped warehouses are in compliance with social distancing rules and include daily checks on employees' health and wellness, Hankinson said.

"A month ago, we set up our warehouse in accordance with that. Every employee is temperature-tested before they come to the building ... We're taking every precaution we can to ensure complete compliance and safety of our employees including providing face masks and gloves, so forth," Hankinson said.

Retail facilities that are not essential for health, sustenance, shelter, mobility and hygiene, were deemed by the county's order as nonessential. E-commerce, however, is still allowed to take place at a local retail business under county guidelines. 

A business on the nonessential list that has an agreement in place or is assisting with a government or community partner request to support COVID-19 emergency response is also covered and exempt from the county’s orders, according to the county's FAQ's on the topic.

Outdoor Equipped continues to operate online sales and has not had any layoffs to the business, he said. 

"Our volume of business in our warehouse is actually quite consistent because we serve a great deal in the nursing, as well as first responders and utility workers with footwear and apparel," he said. 

Outdoor Equipped, however, has its reason for applying with the state. In the requirements by the governor, Outdoor Equipped falls into "several classifications" to where it can maintain being open, Hankinson said. 

The retail establishment has shut the doors to its downtown location at 272 N. Front St., but still maintains an active local warehouse.

"We felt as a precaution that we should formally apply to the state, so that if in the future the governor decides to take more steps -- which through the federal government, through state government, everyone's kind of doing this step by step -- and as steps get more severe, we want to make sure that the government of North Carolina recognizes and realizes that we're serving a very important sector ... from utility workers to nursing and doctors to first responders," Hankinson said.

The company also has a warehouse in Davis County, Utah, where it has applied to be an essential business there.

"In Utah, they don't have a state ordinance; they have a county ordinance. So it is different. So we have applied under the county ordinance," he said.
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