North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum called for “facts not fear,” in an attempt to keep business, community and government leaders calm in the face of the coronavirus pandemic during a conference call Thursday, March 19.

“While we have a health crisis going on like we haven’t faced before, that health crisis is also creating an economic crisis,” he said.

The Greater North Dakota Chamber partnered with various North Dakota state agencies to provide the briefing via a conference call to its members and businesses, trade associations, and local chambers of commerce. The call was meant to provide an arena to discuss current solutions for stressors.

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“How do we keep doing the things we do,” Burgum asked. “How do we keep utilities and infrastructure? How do we keep food service? How do we keep educational activities? How do we keep delivering child care?”

Burgum said a “whole of government” and “whole of community” approach is being implemented in an attempt to deal with the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, even as he confirmed additional cases of COVID-19 as well as the first known instances of community spread.

One additional battle, he said, is the battle of information.

“As much information as there is about this, there’s enormous amounts of misinformation that’s available online,” he said.

People look to their employers, and their community and chamber leaders, as trusted “vehicles for information.”

To that end, Burgum said a central website has been set up for employers at www.business.nd.gov/resources/COVID19BusinessandEmployerResources/.

Burgum was joined on the call by officials and industry leaders from the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Bank of North Dakota, the North Dakota district office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the North Dakota Insurance Department, the Office of the State Tax Commissioner, the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights, Job Service North Dakota and Workforce Safety and Insurance.

Going into the pandemic, Burgum said the state had one of the nation’s strongest economies and lowest unemployment rates. Now, he said North Dakota, like the rest of the nation, finds itself in a completely different situation.

“This is going to be a test of leadership at all levels,” he said.

The extent of that test was only hinted at during what organizers called the first of many similar calls in the coming days and months.

Teams of researchers are currently working to understand state legislation as it relates to employers and employees, according to the North Dakota Department of Commerce.

James Leiman, director of economic development and finance, said at the state level, a three-step process is recommended to businesses:

  • First, go to your local bank, who may know best each business's needs and how to help.
  • Second, look into a Small Business Assistance disaster loan, although certain qualifiers apply.
  • Third, look into state programs designed to help communities based on population size for essential services.

Bank of North Dakota President Eric Hardmeyer said the bank will be on hand to supply liquidity to the state government, as well as possibly augment federal assistance programs.

North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said the federal deadline to pay income taxes, up to $1 million for individuals and $10 million for corporations, has been extended to July 15, although the deadline to file taxes is still April 15. State income tax deadlines are still the same, with no extension for filing or paying. He did indicate there are some hardship extension guidelines for potential COVD19-related issues.

Industry and state government leaders also said information is available on the site regarding unemployment insurance, child care services, differences in exempt and nonexempt employees, paid time off, and a host of other employer-related topics.

In addition, according to the commerce department, the Otto Bremer Trust has made $50 million in grants available to the region for community organizations impacted by COVID-19.

Businesses creating their own sites have been asked to link to the site from their own, as it will be constantly updated. Officials indicated they want their hub to be the central, trusted access point for all virus-related information.

An employee-focused website will be implemented as part of a second phase, officials said. No date has been released on when the site will be available.

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