Arizona businesses small and large are facing yet another challenge due to COVID-19.
FedEx announced a pause this week of its economy express freight services within the U.S. The reason? Too many staff members are unavailable for work as a result of the continuing spread of the Omicron-variant.
The shortages impact FedEx’s popular two-day and three-day freight services relied on by thousands of businesses every day. The effect is a further disruption in America’s manufacturing and retail supply chains which have derailed U.S. automakers and the aerospace industry for months.
Economy freight services are also vital for the delivery of medical equipment, commercial construction, and high-volume printing.
News of the FedEx decision comes just as the company is restarting international economy freight services shut down last month in response to staff shortages across its network.
Similar delivery impediments have hit UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, due in part to employee absences related to COVID-19 as well several extreme weather events across the country. As a result, delivery guarantees are currently suspended on some UPS domestic and worldwide services. In addition, some UPS customer facilities are closed.
“Severe weather conditions and the COVID-19 Omicron variant may impact operations and staffing in parts of the country,” according to a current UPS service alert. “Although we implement contingency plans to minimize service disruptions, delays to service may occur.”
Even regular residential and business mail delivery is being effected in some parts of the U.S.
“Postal Service Priority Mail® products and First-Class® packages may temporarily require more time to be delivered due to limited transportation availability as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” according to the USPS website. “Priority Mail’s two-day and three-day service commitments will be extended to three days and four days, respectively.”
A new state program announced last week by Gov. Doug Ducey will provide up to $10,000 to assist small businesses impacted by Mother Nature and her aftermath, as well as those still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ducey’s Aug. 20 announcement of his Back to Work Small Business Rehiring and Retention Program came the same day he toured flood-ravaged Gila Bend. But while the program is being heavily touted in areas hard hit by flooding and wildfires, the funds are also available to thousands of other Arizona small businesses.
And by small, the governor means between 5 and 50 employees for businesses impacted by flooding or wildfires, and between 5 and 25 for all others. In addition, the business must be owned and operated in Arizona, have an incorporation date before Jan. 1, 2020, and rent or lease a physical location in Arizona.
“We want to make sure they have the resources needed to grow and serve their customers, and our new Small Business Rehiring and Retention Program will do just that,” Ducey said of the funding for employee hiring / signing bonuses, relocation bonuses for employees moving to take an open position, and employee retention bonuses.
One of those small business owners is Lilly Hritz, proprietor of Lilly’s Tombstone Memories located on historic Allen Street in Tombstone. Hritz’s business was hit hard by the pandemic, which essentially wiped out nine months of tourism in 2020 and continued to keep many customers away during the traditionally busy first quarter of this year.
That drop off in revenues and available work hours has made it difficult to find and keep quality workers, Hritz told AZ Free News.
“I am excited to about Governor Ducey’s new program. It will make it easier for me to retain the staff I have and help me attract new employees as we prepare for the upcoming tourist season,” said Hritz. “And that will give me the peace of mind to refocus on our expansion plans which had to be put on hold when COVID hit.”
Ducey’s new program has also received bipartisan support among lawmakers, including praise from Rep. Jeff Weninger (R-LD17) and Rep. Aaron Lieberman (D-LD28).
“Effectively hiring and maintaining employees is crucial for the success of any business, but especially the smaller businesses,” said Weninger, himself a small business owner in Maricopa County. “This new program will help them continue to bounce back from the pandemic and extreme weather, and they’ll have the opportunity to expand operations.”
Lieberman is also a business owner, and said he was happy to work with Ducey’s office on the development of the program.
“Small businesses create jobs, support communities and serve Arizonans’ needs,” said Lieberman. “I’m thrilled to see the launch of the Small Business Rehiring and Retention Program and look forward to all it will do to foster small business growth and help Arizona workers.”