Updated: Mar 28, 2020
Maryland commerce secretary adapts quickly to tackle business emergency
Since March 13 the office of the commerce secretary of Maryland has been fielding hundreds, and by now, perhaps thousands, of email questions from the state’s business owners who have been impacted hard by the state of emergency. Several staff members from the business development department have had their work duties altered to individually respond to business-owner questions.
“We do have a network of people from other agencies that are working with us,” said Karen Hood, director of communications for the Maryland Department of Commerce. “We have a mailbox set up. All the all the emails come into it, then someone will go through those email just to sort of triage them a little bit. (If) they would get a question about health...we’ll make sure that someone from the department of health is aware that those messages are being sent. If we get a question that doesn't fit into any particular jurisdiction, then we're going to try to take those on a case-by-case basis, and just make sure that we get a response to someone.”
The office was working to get answers to people within a business day. So far Hood said they had reached that goal in the great majority of cases.
“I think we are doing as good of a job as we can,” she said. “Just making sure that people get a timely response and know that we care and that we understand what they're going through. We just want to make sure that they are getting the right accurate information.”
The director said things had been developing “fast and furious”. Questions fielded have varied. She emphasized that the department strives to give personal attention to each particular business owner’s unique circumstances. But she also acknowledge that the state had moved their state business webpage toward addressing the emergency and also created a constantly updat Frequently Asked Questions page, which may help answer reoccurring business questions even faster.
Hood said the staff at the commerce department both answer questions of citizens directly and also outsource questions they don’t know the answer to to appropriate state departments and agencies. Those agencies include the department of labor, department of health, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the Maryland comptrollers office, governor’s office and others. They want to make sure that business owners get concrete information from people who are experts on whatever subject the questions involve, she said.
“That's kind of important right now,” Hood said. “just trying to make sure there's no misinformation that's being put out there. If you get it (email) and you send it to somebody who really doesn't know the answer, and they try to answer and they really don't have the subject matter expertise, then you're just perpetuating things. They're putting out information that's not correct.”
She felt her office was bearing up pretty well considering the nature of the emergency. She commended the governor for his fast response and “very strong stance” in dealing with the emergency. But she said the nature of the emergency was unprecedented and that there really wasn’t a road map to take action.
That said, she believed the commerce department was playing an important role in helping business owners. In times like these every constructive action can make a significant difference.
“I know it's there's a lot of confusion right now,” she acknowledged. “There's a lot of uncertainty And we are trying to do our absolute very best to make sure that people don't feel uncertain and get the best and most up to date information that we have. I feel like being able to communicate with businesses directly has been very helpful. And I feel like they they feel a little bit less uncertain. And that they have a direct direct line to our department and someone who's going to respond to them and care about their individual issue is important.”
To email the commerce department with your specific individual business questions that can’t be answered by the state website, write them at Secretary.Commerce@maryland.gov