Our State of the City Address with Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk is back on the calendar for Monday, March 22 at 11 AM. Make sure to sign up here.
Today’s update contains information on a new cutoff amount for stimulus checks, mask protocol reminders, further White House budget delay, and some tips on creative and free ways to promote your business.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Senate Coronavirus Bill Lowers Cutoffs for Stimulus Checks
Senate Democrats have struck a deal to lower the income cut off for receiving a stimulus payment as part of the coronavirus bill, a Democratic aide confirmed. The decision, which speeds up the phasing out of the checks, reflects a demand from moderates to curb the ability of high-income earners to receive the stimulus payments.
Under the agreement, individuals who make up to $75,000 per year or couples who make up to $150,000 per year will still receive a $1,400 check. But the Senate bill, which is expected to be unveiled soon, significantly reduces the income window for receiving a partial check.
The checks would phase out completely at an income threshold of $80,000 for individuals under the Senate deal compared to $100,000 under the House bill. For couples, the checks would phase out completely at an income threshold of $160,000 under the Senate deal, compared to $200,000 for the House bill.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment on the changes. President Biden spoke with the caucus about the coronavirus bill on Tuesday, but didn’t delve into policy specifics and didn’t take questions. While the Senate bill changes the checks, it’s expected to keep the House-passed $400 per week unemployment payment. Those payments would go through August.
There had been a push by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to lower the payments to $300 per week, but the idea sparked broad opposition in the Senate Democratic caucus. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also wanted to extend the $400 per week payment into September. Both provisions could still face additional changes as part of an hours-long vote-a-rama, where any senator who can offer an amendment will be able to do so.
Yes, Even Vaccinated Employees Must Continue Wearing Masks
Now that COVID-19 vaccines are starting to roll out, employees who have been vaccinated are beginning to question whether they are still required to wear face masks, practice social distancing, etc. In short, yes they are – according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, along with numerous state agencies, “it is important to wear a face covering and remain physically distant from co-workers and customers even if you have been vaccinated because it is not known at this time how vaccination affects transmissibility.”
So, the same workplace protocols apply to vaccinated and unvaccinated employees, with one very limited exception: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance providing that vaccinated employees who were exposed to someone with COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they meet all of the following criteria:
- The employee is fully vaccinated (i.e., 2 or more weeks following receipt of the second dose in a 2-dose series, or one dose of a single-dose vaccine);
- The exposure occurred within 3 months following receipt of the last dose in the series; and
- The employee has remained asymptomatic since the COVID-19 exposure
- Accordingly, employers should continue enforcing their existing workplace COVID-19 protocols – and reiterate to their entire workforce that all employees are still required to wear masks, practice social distancing, and report exposure to COVID-19 regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.
Of course, and as with everything else surrounding COVID-19, vaccine-related information available and protocols regarding vaccinated employees is subject to change, so stay tuned.
Covid-19 Virus Studies Yield New Clues on Pandemic’s Origin
As a World Health Organization team digs into the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, other scientists are unearthing tantalizing new clues suggesting that the virus behind it evolved naturally to infect humans. At least four recent studies have identified coronaviruses closely related to the pandemic strain in bats and pangolins in Southeast Asia and Japan, a sign that these pathogens are more widespread than previously known and that there was ample opportunity for the virus to evolve.
Another new study suggests that a change in a single amino acid in a key component of the virus enabled or at least helped the virus become infectious in humans. Amino acids are organic compounds that form proteins.
Public-health officials say it is critical to identify the origin of the pandemic to take steps to avert future outbreaks, though it may take years to do so. These latest pieces of research add to evidence that the virus, called SARS-CoV-2, likely originated in bats and then evolved naturally to infect humans, possibly through an intermediary animal.
The studies also help explain why members of a WHO team that in February completed a four-week mission to Wuhan—the Chinese city where the first known cases of Covid-19 were found—advocate searching for the origin of the pandemic in other countries in addition to China, particularly those along its border in Southeast Asia.
The bat coronaviruses found recently across Asia share genetic similarities with the pandemic strain in key areas of the spike protein, the structure that dots the surface of the virus and helps it attach to human cells, suggesting that the capacity to infect humans evolved naturally, according to one of the bat studies. “All those viruses are coming from nature,” said Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University School of Medicine and senior author of that study, which was published in February on the discussion forum Virological.org.
The amino acid change also suggests a natural viral evolution, said James Weger-Lucarelli, a Virginia Tech virologist who led the study that identified that amino acid change. It was posted on a preprint server, meaning that it hadn’t been peer reviewed, and has been submitted to a journal for publication. He and his colleagues analyzed nearly 183,000 genetic sequences of the pandemic virus for changes that might have aided adaptation to humans. They identified a mutation that changed a single amino acid on the spike protein and showed that it helped the virus infect human cells and replicate. The amino acid was different in a related coronavirus that infects bats and pangolins, scaly ant-eating mammals that some scientists initially hypothesized could be an intermediary in transmitting the virus to humans.
It is unclear whether the mutation was in the virus when it first infected people, or if other changes were needed to enable human transmission, Dr. Weger-Lucarelli said. “But we know this particular amino acid is important for replication in human cells,” he said.
Scientists now should mount an aggressive search for the origin of the pandemic virus wherever horseshoe bats roost, said Linfa Wang, professor of emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore and a senior author of one of the bat studies. These bats, which carry coronaviruses, are found in tropical and temperate regions of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, he said, adding, “I am convinced that the ancestral virus came from bats.”
Some U.S. officials and scientists have said the possibility that the virus began spreading as a result of a laboratory accident can’t be ruled out. The Wuhan Institute of Virology has a high-security lab facility that conducts research on bat coronaviruses. It denies storing or doing research on SARS-CoV-2 before the pandemic began and says it maintains the highest safety standards and that none of its staff have tested positive for the virus.
But some scientists and U.S. officials want the institute to share its safety records and raw data on all its research into both naturally evolved viruses and “gain-of-function” experiments in which scientists genetically manipulate viruses to see if the changes enhance their ability to infect or spread. The Trump administration alleged in January, without presenting evidence, that the institute had done secret research for the Chinese military since 2017. Beijing said that was “based on neither science nor facts.”
Members of the WHO team—an international group of biologists, epidemiologists, and animal health specialists—have said they consider a lab accident an extremely unlikely source of the pandemic. But Peter Ben Embarek, the team leader, said last week that the lab hypothesis is “definitely not off the table” and acknowledged that the team lacked the information it needed to make a full assessment. “We didn’t do an audit of any of these labs so we don’t really have hard facts or detailed data on the work done,” he said during a seminar organized by the National University of Singapore.
The WHO is expected to publish a summary report in the coming days on the team’s findings from its mission to Wuhan. A full report isn’t expected for several more weeks.
White House Budget Delayed Until April
House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth said that President Joe Biden is not expected to submit his fiscal 2022 budget request to Congress until “mid-to-late April.”
The president is required by statute to submit a budget request to Congress by the first Monday in February, but there is no penalty for missing the deadline. A delay is common when a new president takes office, but Biden’s first budget could come later than any of his recent predecessors.
The delay in Biden’s budget request will prevent Democrats from getting formally started on their next budget reconciliation bill. They hope to pass the reconciliation bill they’re using for $1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief before unemployment benefits expire March 14. It could be more than a month after that before the House Budget Committee gets started on the fiscal 2022 budget resolution that will be needed to provide reconciliation instructions for a second economic package.
White House budget aides declined to confirm the April timeline, referring instead to prior comments from administration officials including White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki that the budget would be delayed past February.
Yarmuth said the second reconciliation bill, like the first, will likely provide instructions to numerous House committees. “Let’s put it this way: I think there are going to be a lot of committees that would like to get things in that,” he said. “It’s a very popular piece of legislation — and expensive too.”
Infrastructure and renewable energy-related spending are most often mentioned for inclusion in a subsequent round of budget reconciliation. Immigration bills have often been discussed, as have tax increases Biden has proposed on the wealthy and corporations to offset at least some of the cost.
Sometimes presidents release initial “skinny” versions of their budgets in their first year to avoid too much of a delay. But even in using the skinny budget tactic, President Donald Trump had set a modern record in not publicly releasing details of his first budget until March 16, more than a month past the statutory deadline. He had, however, sent departments and agencies their topline numbers on Feb. 27, 2017 in a process known as a “passback.”
President Barack Obama released early details of his first budget on Feb. 26, 2009; his predecessor, George W. Bush, did so on Feb. 28, 2001. Bill Clinton gave an overview in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 17, 1993.
The Biden administration has warned for months that the budget request would be delayed because Trump’s Office of Management and Budget declined to work with their transition team and remaining career officials have continued to provide obstacles to getting information.
Illinois House Speaker Welch Backs Off Graduated Tax Remarks
Speaker Chris Welch toned down talk that Illinois voters soon again may be asked to allow a graduated-income tax, but notably waded into another hot issue, declining to reject out of hand the possibility of amending the Illinois Constitution to limit government worker pension benefits.
He defended the record of predecessor Mike Madigan, but also conceded that lawmakers need to act to restore public faith in the Legislature. Those were the highlights as new Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch sat down for an hour-long virtual interview in a webcast co-sponsored by Crain’s and the Lincoln Forum.
Welch was asked recently how serious he was when he suggested during an interview earlier in the week with the Economic Club that officials take another run at enacting a graduated income-tax amendment, one that would dedicate much of the proceeds to paying off $144 billion in state pension debt.
Welch described that as “spitballing,” saying he only was talking about what might happen “if” the subject returned. Welch said the General Assembly will “probably not” revive the issue this spring, in time for a new referendum in 2022. But he also described the state’s current tax code as “unfair to working families,” a suggestion he’d still like to see some change.
The graduated tax is closely tied to the issue of somehow finding a way to begin reducing the state’s pension debt, which keeps increasing even as the state contributes more than $9 billion a year out of its operating account to pay retirement costs.
Asked if the problem can be handled with more money or whether it also will require spending cuts, Welch replied, “The ultimate solution is likely to be a variety of things.” Asked a bit later if that might include amending the state Constitution to allow benefits cuts—a move some lawyers say is legal but which organized labor vehemently opposes—Welch declined to take a position. “Let’s have a conversation about it,” he said.
In further remarks, he said a major ethics package is needed for the Legislature and one will be approved this session. Likely included will be limits on lobbying and more economic disclosure, with other changes possible. “We need to rebuild trust in the Legislature,” he said.
He offered a little bit of hope for business groups fighting $932 million in “corporate loophole closings” that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed as part of his fiscal 2022 budget. But not too much hope. “There are many things I agree with (on Pritzker’s list). There are some things I disagree on,” Welch said. What’s really needed to turn around the state’s economy is investment in things such as higher education, he added.
7 Creative (and Free) Ways to Promote Your Business
Marketing your business doesn’t always have to be expensive. Sometimes, all it takes is energy, creativity, and savvy knowledge of where to find inexpensive, high-quality tools to help you get it done. Here are a few free ways to promote your business.
- Take full advantage of Google
Customers most often turn to Google first and foremost to find a specific product or service. Google is one of the most powerful ways to bring in new business. And you don’t need to hire an SEO expert to take advantage of the many free tools Google has to offer.
If you haven’t done so already, start by creating and verifying your Google Business Profile. “Your Google Business Profile (Google’s term for your Google listing) is what allows your business to show up in Google Maps results, the local section of Google Search results, and also — when someone types in your business name and location — the right-side Knowledge Panel in Search results,” explained one expert.
Once you’ve verified your Google Business Profile, you can update your store hours, link to your website, and provide contact information to customers. Ask customers to provide Google reviews to boost your listing even more. Restaurants can use TheOrdering.App, a Google product that’s free until January 2022, to offer customers a way to order right from your website, Google Search, Google Maps and more. The more effort you put into filling out your Business Profile — which is free — the more likely Google will show your business in search results.
- Reward customer loyalty
It costs, on average, five times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Attracting new customers can be expensive and time-consuming. If you aren’t rewarding repeat business, you’re missing out on a marketing opportunity with high ROI. Showing a little extra love to loyal customers doesn’t have to be costly.
Rewards can be as simple as a discount on a future order, or points earned on every purchase. Determine the type of consumer behavior you’re hoping to encourage and design your rewards program accordingly. For instance, if you hope to encourage customers to purchase more frequently, a tiered loyalty program might make more sense than a points-based system. Either way, be sure to take advantage of any tools offered by your current point-of-sale (POS) system. Customer loyalty programs are an effective and inexpensive way to show you care about the people consuming your product or service.
- Create video content
Social videos generate 1200% more shares than text and image content combined. Video content dominates online activity, and the good news is that it’s not expensive to create your own videos. Marketing videos can take many forms, from tutorials to customer testimonials to interviews and live streams. In a time when many customers have shifted to shopping predominantly online, and can’t handle an item in-person, video can play a key role in encouraging customers to click “buy.”
Creating effective video content will cost you time, but not necessarily money. Sites like Biteable, Adobe Spark, Animoto, and Canva all offer free options to create high-quality video content with stock footage and licensed music. If you have a smartphone, you can shoot your own videos and post them to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Instagram Live is an extremely popular way to share behind-the-scenes footage from your business — such as a new product launch, for instance.
- Use email marketing
Speaking of video: combining video content with email marketing can be an unbelievably powerful way to promote your business. First, email marketing campaigns have been shown to generate $38 for every $1 spent. That’s a 3,800% ROI, making email one of the most affordable and impactful ways to reach customers. And adding video to your emails can increase click rates by 300%.
There are plenty of free email marketing tools on the market. Check out our guide on How to Choose the Best Email Marketing Software to learn more about your options.
- Network with your community
If LinkedIn is your go-to channel for networking outreach, that’s a good start. You should be taking advantage of all the exposure that the networking site has to offer. But opportunities to interact with potential customers can be found closer to home, as well. Check out local business organizations (like chambers of commerce!). Attend trade shows and conferences, and don’t leave home without a pocket full of business cards and an elevator pitch.
On social media, search out businesses that complement your own and forge alliances. Feature each other’s products in your photography, tag each other in your posts and search for other creative ways to boost each other’s brands.
It’s also important that, as a small business, you become part of the local community. Get involved in community charity drives and fundraisers. If you’ve got a product or service that you can donate to a good cause, look for opportunities to do so. Genuine, well-intentioned acts of kindness and generosity will speak for themselves.
- Share your expertise
Whether your expertise lies in plant propagation, pop-up greeting cards, or house painting, positioning yourself as an expert can open marketing opportunities for your business. Share the knowledge you’ve gained from starting your business with others to build trust and a great reputation — so that next time someone needs gardening equipment, for instance, they come straight to you.
Beyond video content, blogging and podcasting are obvious ways to show off your knowledge. Contact publishers of websites in your industry and inquire about becoming a contributor. Join LinkedIn and Facebook groups as well as industry-specific discussion boards. Reddit and Quora are also free ways to reach niche communities. Offering incisive, valuable comments in those forums will allow you to organically build a reputation as a knowledgeable player in your field.
- Hold a customer contest
People love a challenge — whether it’s guessing how many marbles are in the jar or submitting a photo of themselves using your product. Fostering a little friendly competition is a great way to connect with current customers and potential new ones.
Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat are all popular platforms for hosting contests, and they work for both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce businesses. For inspiration, read the blogs of marketing experts and spend time on the social sites themselves.
Grabbing the attention of today’s consumers takes a concerted and creative marketing effort. The choice is clear — pay for someone else’s creativity or tap into your own.
Program Notices & Reminders
SBA Page Links for Direction and Questions on PPP
Webinar Series: PPP Updates for Your Small Business
The Small Business Administration has some key changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which will be available for a limited amount of time to ensure America’s smallest businesses get exclusive access. If you are a small business owner with 20 employees or less or are self-employed; there is new information for you. Please join a series of webinars hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Public Private Strategies Institute, & other stakeholders to hear about:
- What steps you can take now to take advantage of this special opportunity, which closes at 5:00 P.M. EST, Tuesday, March 9th, 2021.
- Additional changes and recent policy announcements made by Biden-Harris Administration
- Have your questions answered by SBA Leadership
Mar. 4, 3:00 p.m. ET, Asian-American + Pacific Islander, Native American + Tribal Small Business Owners; Click here to register.
Mar. 5, 1:00 p.m. ET, Black + African-American Small Business Owners, Click here to register.
Mar. 5, 3:00 p.m. ET, Hispanic Small Business Owners, Click here to register.
Mar. 6, 2:00 p.m. ET, Veterans, Self-Employed Business Owners, Click here to register.
Mar. 8, 3:00 p.m. ET, LGTBQ Business Owners, Youth Entrepreneurs, Restaurant Owners, Click here to register.
1st draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/first-draw-ppp-loans
First draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-paycheck-protection-program-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
2nd draw info: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/second-draw-ppp-loans
Second draw app: https://www.sba.gov/document/sba-form-2483-sd-ppp-second-draw-borrower-application-form?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery
A Chance to Win $50,000 for Your Small Business – FedEx Grant Contest
The 2021 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest is now open. Entries close March 9, 2021. Before you enter, have your FedEx account number handy. Or create an account if you don’t have one. Now you have a chance to win $50,000 to help you continue growing your business. Enter the 9th annual FedEx Small Business Grant Contest today.
Enter here: https://smallbusinessgrant.fedex.com/enter-now
More info: https://www.fedex.com/en-us/small-business/grant-contest.html?CMP=SOC-1006521-1-16-1003-1111000-US-US-EN-FXALISBGCKIT200&LINK=LEARNGCLI315120
Finally, following up on the article above with the economic outlook news, we would like to announce our next virtual conference. It will take place on March 11th at 11 AM with John Ferguson, Senior Vice President & Senior Portfolio Manager with Northern Trust.
Economic Trends & Reopening of the Economy
- History: Economic and Market Review through the Pandemic
- Current Events: Market and Economic Signs that we are at an inflection point
- Outlook for the Future: Is this a remake of the roaring 20’s?
Thursday, March 11, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. Register here: http://jolietchamber.chambermaster.com/events/details/2021-webinar-march-11-economic-trends-reopening-of-the-economy-6016
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry