South Jersey, Philly Industrial real estate a hotbed for investors

South Jersey, Philly Industrial real estate a hotbed for investors

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read August 2020 — Even before the pandemic, billions of consumers had already been shopping on e-commerce sites like Amazon for years. But the pandemic is accelerating the platform’s growth as more and more people pivot away from physical stores. Shoppers say that there is something extremely gratifying about clicking a button and having a product delivered to their door the very next day. That’s music to the ears of those in the industrial real estate segment, as companies see an increasing need for distribution space.

When COVID-19 started to rapidly spread around the world, digital buying was no longer just a trend but a necessity. U.S. online sales grew 76% in June, reaching $73.2 billion that month, according to Digital Commerce 360. As a result, industrial real estate became even more of a hotbed for investment. Warehouses and distribution centers provide companies like Walmart and Target the local space they need to get purchase orders out to their customers quickly and efficiently.

To offer consumers fast shipping, a large majority of the industrial real estate is located near key transportation hubs like seaports, highways, railroads and airports. That’s one of the reasons why a handful of out-of-state investors like Peter Lewis, president and founder of Coastal Realty LLC, have started building their industrial portfolios in the Northeast. Lewis explained to the Philadelphia Business Journal why his firm has increased their industrial properties in South Jersey: “These middle-market companies are going to start transitioning to becoming much more sophisticated online,” he said. “They have to. What that means is they’re going to require more warehousing, which is what our property offers. I continue to see a real demand for warehousing in densely populated areas. It’s going to be all the way from the 4 million-square-foot guys to the 2,500-square-foot guys,” said Lewis. Coastal Realty recently teamed up with Walton Street Capital to buy a 32-building industrial portfolio in Pennsauken. 


South Jersey and Philadelphia are lucrative areas because of their unique placement between Washington and New York. “The overall demand for warehouse space has continued to remain strong, especially with the uptick in e-commerce and the expectation by the consumer to have goods in their hands as quickly as possible. When Amazon Prime was introduced, two days for delivery seemed fast and quickly became the norm. We are now finding that next-day delivery, if not same-day delivery, is an integral part of the supply chain that is driving a lot of companies to look for warehouse space in South Jersey. The new speculative and build-to-suit development in our market has been mostly in the northern parts of Burlington County and the southern parts of Gloucester County,” Ian Richman, senior managing director of Southern New Jersey Colliers International, told Invest: South Jersey 2020. 

As long as there is a continued increase in consumer spending, the demand for retail space and other commercial activities like distribution centers, in theory, should rise. 

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How the aviation industry is weathering COVID-19 turbulence

How the aviation industry is weathering COVID-19 turbulence

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read July 2020 — Summer this year is drastically different. Instead of hopping on planes to visit friends and family or finally embarking on that European adventure, the majority of frequent travelers are staying put, at least for the time being. It started to become apparent around the second week of March that the novel coronavirus would have a severe impact on the air transport industry. Even some of the busiest airports like Philadelphia International are feeling the weight of uncertainty. Nevertheless, the aviation industry continues to push forward. New air travel innovations have emerged and some airlines have even rediscovered ways to use their aircraft as they weather the turbulence. 

Greater Philadelphia is the eighth-largest metropolitan area in the United States and is located in the middle of one of the largest catchment areas with passport holders spanning from South Jersey all the way to New York, according to PHL CASRIP.  Philadelphia International Airport is the only international airport that not only serves Philly but the northeast region as a whole. Just last year, the PHL welcomed more than 33 million passengers. It was the largest amount of traffic the airport has ever seen and what makes that figure even more impressive is that fact that there are 29 other airports within a 50 mile radius. So while it may take years for the airport to return to those 2019 levels, there is still hope for air transportation. On July 16, American Airlines and JetBlue announced their strategic partnership that will create seamless connectivity for travelers in the Northeast. This will help to provide more choices for passengers across their complementary domestic and international networks.

Our innovative partnership will allow us to compete in the New York market where American and JetBlue have traditionally been third and fourth. This partnership will allow us to coordinate schedules so we can provide customers better connectivity, capitalizing on JetBlue’s strengths in the New York market and American’s strengths as a long-haul carrier. Ideally, we envision a time where our passengers can travel into New York on JetBlue and connect with American Airlines for a long-haul flight out of JFK. So it opens up a tremendous amount of new markets to both JetBlue and American customers, complementing our trans-Atlantic gateway in Philadelphia,” Jim Moses, vice president for American Airlines PHL Hub Operations, told Invest: Philadelphia. 

Forming strategic partnerships with the competition is just one way airlines are navigating the pandemic. A majority of aviation companies are also adjusting their travel schedules, waiving ticket alteration fees and offering flights at a much lower fare. When it comes to cleanliness airlines are making sure to broadcast their meticulous efforts. Major U.S. airlines like Delta, American, JetBlue and United are in close contact with health agencies such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control to make sure their guidelines for cleaning their aircraft cabins are up to par. 

As for Philadelphia International Airport, customers and employees are required to wear marks. Their TSA screening process has been modified to protect passengers and new touchless check-in technology has started to emerge. PHL also launched an initiative that offers airlines financial stimulus to encourage carriers to fly to certain destinations and to expand their cargo services. “PHL believes that this rapid injection of relief and growth will jumpstart the entire airport ecosystem, thus benefiting the Philadelphia region,” Stephanie Wear, director of air service development and cargo services, told Airport Experience News. “From concessions to ground transportation to tourism and commerce, the halo effect of increased air travel will create immediate wins for all airport stakeholders.” 

Startup ecosystem has a new Silicon Valley: Philadelphia

Startup ecosystem has a new Silicon Valley: Philadelphia

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read July 2020The term “startup” may bring to mind a group of motivated mid-20-year-olds huddled together in a high-tech office somewhere in Silicon Valley. However, the southern part of San Francisco Bay is no longer the only hotspot for young, ambitious people. The Philadelphia Business Journal recently reported that Philadelphia has one of the top emerging startup ecosystems in the United States, according to a new study from the Startup Genome. Although startups are often small enterprises, the role they play in economic growth is extensive. With new entrepreneurs come new ideas, new innovations and new competition for bigger corporations. 


While all startups have the ability to transform into a big business, there are many differences between the two. Along with having different visions for growth and sustainability, startups also tend to have a unique relationship with funding. Unlike a traditional business, startups often rely on capital from outside investors or venture capital firms. Running out of money is the second-most common reason for a startup’s failure. An estimated 29% of startups fold because they ran out of cash, according to CB Insights. With that being said, more and more entrepreneurs are opening up shop in Philadelphia because it has a diverse population, an urban atmosphere and most importantly affordable rents. 

“People who do tech startups in Philly still feel that giddy sense of wonder and magic that comes from starting something totally new. We don’t take it for granted. We still feel lucky and grateful to be doing what we’re doing. We’re scrappy. Philly tech is the way I imagine Silicon Valley must have been before the personal computer boom, the first internet boom, and the second internet boom made startup success feel like a foregone conclusion. In the Valley, most employees don’t remember those days. In America, we’re used to thinking of the East as the past and the West as the future. But when it comes to tech, the tables are turned. The Valley is experienced and satisfied. Philly is young and hungry,” Michael Idinopulos, a social business pioneer, wrote in a blog originally for PeopleLinx, now FRONTLINE Selling, and reposted on Robin Hood Ventures

Startups and small businesses are also a crucial part of Philadelphia’s economy. Startups have been proven to boost employment patterns, which leads to more job opportunities. In 2019, small businesses created 57,377 net jobs. Firms employing fewer than 20 employees experienced the largest gains, adding 34,585 jobs, according to Pennsylvania Small Business Economic Profile. Other than economic growth, startups also tend to revolutionize technology. Exyn Technologies, founded in 2014 by Nader Elm, is just one of the many startups using research to create technology designed to keep more people out of harm’s way. Exyn Technologies pioneers autonomous aerial robot systems to improve operational efficiencies and safety for data gathering in underground mining. 

“I think it is interesting as we are watching the use of drones following the emergence of COVID-19. A lot of companies have started testing and demonstrating the capability of using drones to disinfect public areas. I think that is super relevant and very important not only for this pandemic, but it also shows how the industry at large is adopting autonomous tech in all kinds of environments. Also, it is fascinating to think about autonomous inspections and data collection for heavy industry,” Joe Snodgrass, field engineer at Exyn Technologies, told My Dear Drone. 


A deeper look into how Philadelphia’s economy is recovering

A deeper look into how Philadelphia’s economy is recovering

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read – Philadelphia is the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the United States. Its diverse population, affordable rents and urban atmosphere make it an ideal location for entrepreneurs to open up shop. So much so, that small businesses make up 99.7% of its economy, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. The city was on a strong growth course before COVID-19. However, that all came tumbling down when all non-essential businesses were ordered to shut down in Pennsylvania on March 19. 


In an effort to limit the damage to the national economy, the federal government rolled out the Coronavirus Aid and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27. Part of the act, a loan called the Paycheck Protection Program, has played a particularly important role in Philadelphia’s recovery. The program set aside $349 billion for small business loans intended to help them stay afloat and keep their people employed during the pandemic. Within weeks, the federal aid was exhausted and small businesses were once again left with uncertainty. A second glimmer of economic hope presented itself  when Gov. Tom Wolf allowed Philadelphia to transition into the yellow phase of his recovery plan on June 5. Stay-at-home orders were lifted and in-person retail was again allowed. Despite rising coronavirus cases, most businesses were eager to open their doors under regulated CDC guidelines. 

Two weeks into Philadelphia’s reopening a new obstacle landed in the city’s lap. Some businesses experienced looting and vandalism due to nationwide protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nine minutes. On June 11, Philadelphia announced a new grant and loan program for small businesses affected by the COVID-19 shutdown and damages from recent lootings. The Restart PHl Loan Fund from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. will be primarily for minority-owned businesses in low-income areas. The $3 million in loans to small businesses can cover costs for things like inventory, technology, staffing and employee training. Philadelphia also announced a $1.4 million “Restore and Reopen Program,” which will provide grants to independently-owned businesses that have suffered from property damage.

“These efforts are intended to provide equitable and immediate relief to ensure our small businesses can sustain themselves and return in a manner that allows them to thrive,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in a statement. 

It may be too early to tell how the region’s economy will fare as it heads into a post-COVID-19 landscape. However, there is one sector that is expected to thrive as a result of all of this. Now more than ever before technology has proven to be a vital aspect of everyday life. One key advantage the industry has is the ability to have its employees work remotely, unlike retail and food services. The tech sector could even play an essential role in igniting the reconstruction of the local economy, according to the Greater Philadelphia Economy League.


The Post-Pandemic City

The Post-Pandemic City

By: Abby Melone, President & CEO, Capital Analytics

It’s a truism in today’s hyper-connected world that people go where the jobs are, more so now than ever before. But what happens when your job suddenly can be done from anywhere?


The 19th century ushered in the first and second Industrial Revolutions that saw more and more people move to urban environments, precisely because that’s where the jobs were. In the United States, the rise of manufacturing opened a new world of employment possibilities, pushing people from the farm to the factory. It’s a push that in one way or another continued into the 20th and 21st centuries. The result is seen today in the population densities that cram big cities from coast to coast, border to border.

According to the United Nations’ World Urbanization Prospects report and the website Our World in Data, the world crossed over in 2007. That’s the fist year the number of people living in urban areas rose above the number living in rural areas (3.35 billion versus 3.33 billion). In the United States, around 82.3% of the population lives in urban areas, according to the World Bank. Growth trajectories project a steady increase in urbanization as far out as 2050. 

Today, the millennial generation is changing the character of urbanization by spearheading the live-work-play ethos. This generation prefers to skirt the traffic jams and live and play near where they work. The goal to have it all close by has given rise to the mixed-use building concept that puts everything – your living options, your entertainment choices and your shopping – all in one convenient location, which preferably, is near your workplace. 

It also means we are all living closer to each other in smaller and smaller spaces. That seemed to suit a lot of people just fine. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and all of sudden, none of that seemed fine at all.

The pandemic resulted in shelter-in-place orders that forced people to live 24 hours a day in their homes while also working from their home offices, if they had one, or their kitchen tables if they didn’t. The very idea of needing to go somewhere else to do your job turned out to be not so much of a necessity after all. In just a few months, priorities appear to have shifted. Now, many of us seem to crave space, the great outdoors, and we seem to be split 50-50 on whether we want to continue working from home, wherever we choose that to be, or prefer an official office setting, mostly for the socializing.

There is little doubt that the world has changed as a result of the pandemic. Most experts are puzzling on whether that change will last and just what our cities will look like as a result. The fact is, though, that change was already in play before COVID-19 hit.

My company focuses on nine major U.S. markets like Orlando, Miami, Atlanta and Philadelphia. We talk to industry and political leaders to understand the issues their communities face to gauge the direction in which they are moving. Today, everyone is talking about the pandemic’s impact on the retail sector, for example. Yet, e-commerce was already a thing before COVID-19. In 2019, a record 9,800 stores were shuttered, according to a Bloomberg report, with 25,000 closures expected in 2020 due to the coronavirus impact, the report said, citing Coresight Research. Yes, that’s a devastating impact, but the pandemic really has only accelerated the pace of implementation. It pushed more people online immediately, but those people were likely headed there anyway.

Many of the leaders we have spoken with during the pandemic agree that retail and commercial real estate was already undergoing a slowdown as industrial space to accommodate last-mile delivery for the Amazons of the world was booming. Many expect this trend will continue.

More importantly, what the pandemic has done has caused a rethink of priorities among individuals and it is this impact that will likely shape the post-pandemic city. Living in lockdown awakened people to the “smallness” of their space, forced on them by a combination of convenience and higher and higher housing prices in big cities. The median listing price for a home in Miami-Dade, for example, was $465,050 in May compared to the average U.S. listing price of $329,950, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Interestingly, population growth in Miami-Dade was already slowing as more people moved out, with escalating living costs among the factors. With the pandemic highlighting the risks of living so close together, will more people decide that farther away is not only cheaper, but safer?

Big city living will change in the post-pandemic world as social distancing forces “people places” like gyms and restaurants to accommodate lingering fears from the virus. Tens of thousands of small businesses have already closed down for good, clearly altering the very unique characteristics of cities that attracted people in the first place.

The biggest impact, however, will be on how – and where – jobs are done. Remote working is hear to stay in some form or another. Like the industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, people will always go where the jobs are. For many, those jobs will now be done from home, which means that home can be virtually anywhere. It creates choice like never before, and this will dramatically alter the character, although not likely the course, of urbanization. That’s an important difference. 

Big cities have seen the ebbs and flows of population growth before and will likely see them again. Through it all, they have more often thrived than not. The post-pandemic city may look and feel a bit different – the way condo units are built, for example, may change to accommodate working from home, while adding elements like air filters to battle any future virus outbreak – and there may even be a greater push to the suburbs in the short term. Overall, however, continued urbanization likely will remain on the cards. If we’re lucky, there may just be a little more distance between all of us.


Florida and Pennsylvania unemployment claims level off as economies slowly reopen

Florida and Pennsylvania unemployment claims level off as economies slowly reopen

By: Beatrice Silva 

3 min read June 2020 — As of June 5, most of Florida has taken the next step of reopening the economy that was devastated by COVID-19. Unemployment figures are starting to level off as businesses slowly start to open up again. On June 6, the U.S. Department of Labor saw its lowest figure for new unemployment claims since March 26. However, the sunshine state’s economy isn’t in the clear just yet. Florida has the fourth highest unemployment claims in the U.S. To make matters worse, some Floridans are still struggling to collect their unemployment benefits. 


 Since March 15, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) has paid out $1.5 billion in state claims and another $4.6 billion in federal unemployment benefits. Approved applicants should be getting $600 per week from federal benefits plus the state’s additional $275 weekly benefits. Unfortunately, issues resulting from an influx of people filing for benefits has caused the Florida DEO’s website to crash on multiple occasions. On April 15, Gov. Ron DeSantis placed Jonathan Satter, Florida Department of Management Services secretary, in charge of fixing the state’s unemployment benefits system. As a result, a new mobile-friendly website was born. People can now submit an application on the new website if they don’t currently have an open unemployment benefits claim on file. 


Different markets were hit particularly hard by the COVID related economic slowdown. The transportation and hospitality sectors are expected to take the longest to get back on their feet.

“There are a couple of key industries that will be greatly impacted the longer this goes, especially tourism and real estate. On the positive side, there is a significant number of secondary markets in Florida. Traveling overseas will likely not be as popular in the next couple of years, speaking well for these secondary markets. Challenges do drive opportunities and developers might take cues from the latter. Hospitality and tourism will continue to suffer and will likely require continuous stimuli the longer this continues,” said Blain Heckaman, CEO for Kaufman Rossin in an interview with Invest: Miami. 


Florida isn’t the only state feeling economic pressure as a result of COVID-19. Northeastern regions of the United States that were hit particularly hard by the virus, like Pennsylvania and New York, have also started reopening nonessential businesses in an effort to jumpstart the economy. Since March 15, the Unemployment Compensation department has paid over $16.4 billion in state and federal unemployment compensation benefits, according to Pennsylvania’s government website. The state is also preparing to activate an unemployment program that would extend benefits for up to 13 more weeks for eligible individuals. The last time Pennsylvania initiated the extended benefits program was during the fallout from the Great Recession in 2009.


Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is taking a three-phase, regional approach to reopening the state. The system consists of red, yellow and green phases that are then applied to individual counties. Red is the most restrictive and green is the least. On June 5, Wolf allowed 34 counties to transition into the green phase. Although most restrictions are lifted during this final phase, people are encouraged to follow CDC guidelines. Businesses like gyms, hair salons and indoor recreation centers that remained closed in the yellow phase can start to reopen at 75 percent occupancy. There are still 33 Pennsylvania counties in the yellow phase, which serves the purpose of slowly powering up the economy while still trying to contain the spread of COVID-19. 


Gov. Wolf has publicly voiced his desire for Pennsylvania to reopen. However, he warns business owners not to open up too early. “By opening before the CDC evidence suggests you’re taking undue risks with the safety of your customers. That’s not only morally wrong, it’s also really bad business. Businesses that do follow the whims of local politicians and ignore the law and the welfare of their customers will probably find themselves uninsured because insurance does not cover things that happen to businesses breaking the law,” Wolf said during a press conference. 


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Spotlight On: Rodger Levenson, Chairman, President & CEO, WSFS Bank

Spotlight On: Rodger Levenson, Chairman, President & CEO, WSFS Bank

By: Max Crampton Thomas

2 min read June 2020 — For 188 years, WSFS has served its community by staying true to its values and managing for the long term.  Ultimately, the true measure of the value of any company is how it responds during periods of adversity. WSFS Bank moved to a work from home and drive-through model during the COVID 19 pandemic to continue supporting its customers. It also involved itself deeply in federal aid programs, such as the PPP for small businesses, while looking forward to a reactivating economy, according to CEO Rodger Levenson in an interview with Invest:.

What have the last 12 months been like for WSFS in the Philadelphia region?

In March of 2019, we closed the acquisition of Beneficial Bank, which was a huge milestone for us. It marked our significant entry into the Philadelphia border region. This was followed by a well-done, award-winning marketing campaign that introduced the WSFS brand to the community in a thought-provoking way, sharing our nickname, which was really consistent with the way that Philadelphians view banks and where it is very hard to differentiate yourself.


We married all that with Beneficial and what they brought to the community. We waited until six months after the close to do the systems and branding conversion because we thought it was important to allow ourselves some time to get customers, associates and the community acclimated to our name and become familiar with us. We thought that because of the size of this market, there was value in taking some time.


At the same time, and as part of the Beneficial combination, part of the strategic rationale was to start in a significant way to really deal with the trend in banking over the last few years, which is this shift away from physical delivery channels like branches and more into digital channels – a trend that has been accelerated by the current environment. We used cost savings to invest heavily in our technology overhaul. Not that we had an offering that was lagging behind our competitors, but we saw the need to move faster than we had in the past.


What has been the bank’s strategy to adapt to the situation stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The company has done well. We are serving our customers, we are supporting each other, we are supporting the community. Like everybody else, we’ve had some challenges through this environment, but I would tell you that we are managing through this very well. We are really pleased at how the company pivoted and adjusted how we do things.


I think this is a by-product or a combination of some good planning resulting from our business continuity plans. We clearly had not planned for an extended scenario or a pandemic, but we had plans in place, we had groups that had done offsite, remote workdays and things like that to be prepared. When we made the decision on March 16, to work from home, it was certainly an adjustment, but we weren’t starting from scratch.


On the retail office side, it was not a hard decision to go to drive-thru only. We saw that it was clear that we were dealing with a major health situation and the safety and well-being of our customers and associates; that was our No. 1 priority. We made the call and we went from 90 branches to 72, which were those that had drive-thru capabilities. After a few weeks of that, seeing our customers’ increased use of different channels like mobile, and to keep our associates safe, we adjusted even that footprint. We put together a different model in which our associates who were working at those locations, instead of working a five-day week, started working on four-day on, four-day off teams.


How involved is the bank in federal aid initiatives such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)?

We were really pleased to be a participant in the PPP program from the Small Business Administration and serve our customers. When the dust settles from this program, we will have processed just about 5,000 loans and just a little bit under a billion dollars. 


At the end of the day, that’s almost a billion dollars that we put into the regional economy. If you look at the spreadsheets and the people who received those loans, many were $10,000 to $25,000. These were real people who were in need, who did not have the resources that other people had. Hopefully, a lot of it will be forgiven. We did that whole loan program with everybody working from home and more than 200 associates working seven days a week.


What role will the bank, and the sector in general, play in reactivating the economy?

I think the banking community is really doing everything possible to support our customers and get them through this really difficult stage to bridge them into what hopefully will be the opening up and recovery in the second half of the year.


As things move forward and we open up our ability to continue to support those customers with additional lending requests, among others, we are going to do everything we can to support them and the community. We moved $3 million into the WSFS Foundation, which supports nonprofits in the region, and we did that because so many of those nonprofits are struggling right now. I think that is the beauty of the community banking model.


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Philadelphia steadily rising from COVID-19 challenges

Philadelphia steadily rising from COVID-19 challenges

By: Max Crampton Thomas

2 minute read: June 2020 — Virtually every sector of the economy has been pinched, crushed, or depleted by the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Months into the “new normal,” industries and businesses have had to adapt operations to cope with COVID-19-related challenges. While many businesses remain embattled by the current economic cycle, innovation and opportunity are beginning to rise from the initial shocks of the novel coronavirus, while community leaders help others navigate through the CARES Act and the loan forgiveness process.

In the Delaware Valley, a region severely affected by the effect of COVID-19, leaders have methodically looked at ways to foster innovation in the face of the pandemic. For the real estate sector, the virus outbreak accelerated change in business practices and stress-tested the supply chain of businesses in the region. “We now feel threatened that the supply chain outside, and even inside, the United States is not dependable and will need to be more flexible,” Colliers International Philadelphia President and CEO Douglas Sayer told Invest: Philadelphia. “Accordingly, there will be an increase in manufacturing domestically, creating a greater demand for production and storage space as well as e-commerce distribution centers,” he said. The coronavirus even reversed years-long trends in the commercial and industrial real estate sector. “In the pre-2000 economy, a significant portion of the industrial inventory was repurposed for multifamily and retail. Now, we have reversed course by taking underperforming malls and strip centers and repurposing them for industrial, residential and medical uses.” 

The City of Brotherly Love has long been a thriving hub for the medical and life science industry. The virus could potentially create more demand for medical office and manufacturing space while creating opportunity for medical companies looking to settle in the region and for developers, Sayer said. “COVID-19 has also accelerated medical research. In certain areas, such as gene cell therapy, there has been a shortage of space, and only more recently has this space attracted developer interest,” he said. “In one instance, we were endeavoring to locate space for one of our clients locally and ended up sourcing the space in Raleigh. As a result of the shortage of R&D and process manufacturing space, we would anticipate more will continue to be developed.”

While some leaders pivot their focus to account for innovation and marketplace opportunities, others are helping businesses navigate through the CARES Act provisions and the coming loan forgiveness program. Accounting firm EisnerAmper was ahead of the curve by stress-testing its technology and remote work capabilities weeks before shelter-in-place measures took full effect, Partner In Charge Paul Dougherty told Invest: Philadelphia. “We immediately created a COVID-19 response team that quarterbacks the different elements of the issues presented by the crisis, including the tax and stimulus aspects. And we did significant outreach to our clients via webinars, blogs and articles, e-blasts, podcasts, and so forth. To some extent, we’ve become experts on these Small Business Administration (SBA) loans,” he said. In a time where banks are stressed and overwhelmed with the related CARES ACT provisions and the Paycheck Protection Program, EisnerAmper is using its technology dexterity to help banks and business owners calculate loan forgiveness figures. “The banks are under a tremendous amount of stress because a loan recipient must determine the amount of forgiveness within eight weeks after receiving the loan. The banks have given out many thousands of loans, and they don’t necessarily have the staff to process all of that work in a timely fashion,” Dougherty said. “Our firm has worked with a technology company on a product that can input data from the customer and calculate the amount of loan forgiveness, which we can then provide to the banks.” 

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Spotlight On: John Lawrence, President, Mid-Atlantic Territory at Aetna, a CVS Health Company

Spotlight On: John Lawrence, President, Mid-Atlantic Territory at Aetna, a CVS Health Company

By: Max Crampton Thomas

2 min read June 2020 —  Founded in 1853, Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified healthcare benefits companies, serving an estimated 46.7 million people. President of the Mid-Atlantic Territory John Lawrence spoke with Invest: about the company’s role in the battle against COVID-19.

How is Aetna assisting individuals, employers and providers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic? 

As part of CVS Health, we have a presence in communities across the country and interact with one in three Americans every year. When facing a health crisis like COVID-19, we’re uniquely positioned to understand where the needs are and how to address them. To support our members, we’ve waived the cost-sharing for testing and in-patient treatment of COVID-19, offering no-cost telemedicine visits until June 4, waived charges for CVS Pharmacy home delivery of medications; and waived cost-sharing for all primary care visits for Aetna Medicare members. 

Similarly, for plan sponsors, we’ve introduced an Employee Communications Toolkit that they can use to communicate the support available to their employees; offered a Special Enrollment Period Opportunity for insured plans; and developed a cost modeling calculator to help self-funded customers estimate the cost impacts of COVID-19. For providers, we’ve taken numerous actions to help reduce the administrative burden. 


What role will Aetna play as the state looks to slowly reopen its economy? 

Dramatically increasing the frequency and efficiency of testing to help slow the spread of the virus is critical for responsibly reopening the economy when experts tell us it’s safe. We operate large-scale COVID-19 rapid test sites in five states, which were opened in a matter of weeks through partnerships with the Department of Health and Human Services and governors in Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan and Rhode Island. Most of the parking lot sites can accommodate up to 1,000 tests per day using the Abbot ID NOW COVID-19 test which provides immediate results. Since May, we’ve been offering self-swab tests at select CVS Pharmacy locations in parking lots or at drive-thru windows.


What accommodations to your network of primary care doctors and specialists did you have to make to handle the influx of patients due to the COVID-19 outbreak? 


For primary care doctors and specialists in our network the issue was twofold: staying in touch with their patients and doing so in a way that kept them and their patients safe. Telemedicine was the obvious answer, and we assisted our physicians in adopting or expanding their ability to offer telemedicine services. To further encourage the use of telemedicine, we waived co-payments for all virtual encounters. This included services for members in high-deductible plans, anticipating the guidance subsequently received from the Treasury Department. We also added additional payment codes and rates to reimburse our network doctors at the same rate for in-person and virtual visits.


Recognizing that some of our community of healthcare providers and clinicians are facing financial and administrative strain throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we took a series of additional actions to allow them to focus on delivering high-quality patient care. These actions include a commitment to prompt and accurate claim payments; helping hospitals prioritize COVID-19 patients; enabling greater capacity with healthcare providers; ensuring full provider reimbursements for waived member cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing and treatment; and providing behavioral health support. 


What are your initiatives to address urgent health and safety needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in communities across Philadelphia? 


The less visible but escalating mental and emotional crisis is the “second curve” of the pandemic, and CVS Health is proactively addressing this urgent crisis through the launch of a mental well-being program. So many people are dealing with the physical effects and the mental trauma, stress, fear, anxiety and isolation as a result of the pandemic. On May 4, CVS Health launched a nationwide effort and committed $1 million in charitable support to help address those realities and we’re connecting people with no cost mental well-being resources and counseling services. In the first phase of the program, we’re particularly focused on healthcare workers, essential workers and seniors. 


When facing a health crisis like COVID-19, we’re always working to understand where the needs are and how to best address them. We are continuing to reinforce the importance of social distancing and proper hand-washing measures especially as local communities return to business as usual. Through all of our COVID-related efforts, our goal is to help slow the spread of the virus and save lives. 


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