The appointment book at Greenfield Music Center shows all the cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Owner Tony Seiler moved quickly to shut down his store, well before Gov. Holcomb's executive order. Staff photo by Tom Russo
The appointment book at Greenfield Music Center shows all the cancellations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Owner Tony Seiler moved quickly to shut down his store, well before Gov. Holcomb's executive order. Staff photo by Tom Russo
HANCOCK COUNTY — Until earlier this month, Amber Smith was an intake billing specialist at a Greenfield logistics company. Now, she is one of many people around the country who have lost their jobs due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Smith’s employer has sent workers home without pay for what she was told could be up to six months, she said. Now, she is filing for unemployment while worrying about her husband’s job at a manufacturing company.

“It’s a matter of time before they close the doors on their facility, and I don’t think they’re going to pay them either,” Smith said.

The situation, Smith said, is frustrating and scary. She hopes people will continue to comply with social-distancing requirements so that companies can reopen their doors.

“The longer people fight it, the longer people will be stuck at home and we’ll be without jobs,” she said.

Smith is far from the only Hancock County suddenly facing a tough financial situation due to coronavirus-related layoffs. Around the country, nearly 3.3 million people filed for unemployment last week, the highest level in history and more than quadruple the previous record. The Labor Department released the startling numbers on Thursday, March 26.

Aid may be on its way from the federal government. On Wednesday, March 25, the U.S. Senate passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill that would provide cash assistance for most Americans and boost unemployment payments by $600 a week for four months.

One of Hancock County’s largest businesses, Elanco Animal Health, confirmed earlier this week that it had not laid anyone off. Many companies, however, are “furloughing” their workers — sending them home without pay, with the intention that they will return to work when COVID-19 is contained.

Jenifer Cruser was a corporate sales manager at Dave & Buster’s until March 16, when the restaurant chain closed all of its locations and sent home the majority of its workforce without pay.

With a husband whose job at Eli Lilly and Company is secure, Cruser said she considers herself relatively lucky. Still, at age 50, she is considering whether she will have to spend all her retirement savings to stay afloat — and whether her company will go under, potentially leaving her without any job to return to.

“I don’t know how long this is going to last. The thought of spending my entire nest egg to survive during this is terrifying to me,” Cruser said.

Cruser said she supported the federal government taking whatever steps are necessary to get aid to people who need it.

“Right now, we need immediate action,” she said. “If we need to put a Band-Aid on the problem by borrowing $2 trillion, then so be it.”

The crisis is causing an increase of people seeking aid from the Greenfield WorkOne office, according to Region 5 executive director Lance Ratliff. The agency’s offices are closed to the public and its staff is working remotely, but they are still available to answer questions about layoffs and the process of seeking a new job.

Some employers still looking to hire, Ratliff said, including in retail and distribution.

“There are some opportunities out there for people,” he said.

Ratliff advised anyone who has been laid off or furloughed to file for unemployment, even if they have been told the situation is temporary. Unemployment claims can be filed online at unemployment.in.gov.

People who are not able to find work right now may want to use the opportunity to pursue education or training, or to improve their resumes, Ratliff said.

“There’s a lot of prep work people can do to get ready to apply for jobs,” he said.

Randy Sorrell, the executive director of the Hancock County Economic Development Council, said it is too soon to know the full extent of the economic impact the virus will have on Hancock County.

“I don’t know how severe it will be locally or how long it will be,” Sorrell said.

While he estimated that the crisis will likely have a major impact on existing Hancock County businesses, Sorrell said developers are so far not changing plans to move into the community. He said he has had no cancellations or delays from companies that are interested in moving their operations to the county or opening a new location. Earlier this week, for example, workers were swarming all over the construction site for a building that will house an Amazon logistics center.

Many Hancock County businesses are currently shut down due to the pandemic, with an executive order from Gov. Eric Holcomb mandating non-essential businesses close. Tony Seiler, owner of Greenfield Music Center, made the decision earlier in March to close his business. With many young children and families coming through the store, he decided it wasn’t safe to remain open.

“When the school gets shut down, we pretty much have to shut down,” Seiler said.

Seiler’s store sells musical instruments and employs nine instructors to teach lessons. Now, he and the instructors are going without income, and he will need to keep paying thousands of dollars each month in bills.

Seiler said he was remaining optimistic that the federal government would offer relief to small business owners and that the pandemic would ease.

“Hopefully, people take it seriously and self-quarantine so we can stop the spread,” he said.

Cary Benbow is general manager of Legacy Cinema in Greenfield, which is owned by his father-in-law, Allen Strahl, which has been closed since March 13 in compliance with government guidelines. Benbow said with studios pushing back the release dates of their films, the cinema could be suffering financially ever after shutdown orders are lifted.

“Without anything coming in, we’ve had to tell employees we’re not scheduling anybody,” Benbow said. “We’re dead in the water.”

The impact on the theater industry is likely to be severe and impact both large chains and small, locally owned businesses like Legacy Cinema, Benbow said. He hopes the National Association of Theater Owners will help secure a government bailout, similar to what will be likely be offered to airlines and other industries.

In the meantime, the Benbow family has changed the sign outside the theater that normally displays daily movie times. It now features a quote from Pixar’s “Finding Nemo” that doubles as advice for getting through the pandemic — “Just keep swimming.”

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