COVID-19 ripple effect is forcing layoffs

KING COUNTY, Wash. — The impact of the coronavirus outbreak is hurting businesses, particularly in the food industry - with catering companies among the worst hit.

Employees at most major companies are largely working from home, and people are canceling their events.

It means layoffs at some companies have already started.

Design Perfect in Kirkland said 95%of its business is catering for corporate events. But now its owners don’t know how they’ll pay rent, cover payments on vehicles or pay for insurance.

With no cash coming in, owners Daina and Mark Carter say they were forced to lay off most of their 17 employees.

“We officially laid everybody off except one person yesterday,” Daina Carter said. “We didn’t sleep all night.”

They’ve been in business for 27 years.

“We are affected a lot harder because we cater for all of the big companies that are not having meetings. We cater for the big names, Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile, you name it,” Daina Carter said.

“We went from 1,000 mph to absolutely zero,” she said.

Carter wants to make clear that they are not closed and are in fact standing by for the next orders.

Paris Flenoy was the Design Perfect Catering logistics coordinator. She was one of the employees laid off yesterday but came in to Design Perfect to speak with KIRO7.

“It’s just weird, coming in here. It’s like a ghost town,” Flenoy said. “You can hear the silent ringing in here.”

She said she’s worried for the future. She tried to apply for unemployment but said offices told her as a recent college graduate, she hadn’t been in the workforce long enough to qualify.

“I have bills. I just moved into my apartment. I don’t know how I’m supposed to pay rent,” she said.

The one employee left at the company showed us the stack of cancellation emails from clients – all citing the COVID-19 outbreak.

Design Perfect Catering is far from the only one impacted.

Twelve Baskets Catering’s owner, John Bagge, said he met with more than a dozen others in the industry Thursday.

“It’s completely devastating for a lot of catering companies,” he said.

Twelve Baskets relies less on corporate business but also has a long list of cancellations because of coronavirus.

And there’s no end in sight yet.

“It’s very scary,” Flenoy said. He’s reminding people that most catering businesses are still open and if you need to feed people for an event, they are available.

U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer announced Friday that Congress signed a bill into law that will provide $7 billion in low-interest loans to small businesses, though it’s not clear when that money will be available.

“We’re at the end of our rope,” Daina Carter said. She said they could hold on for a couple more weeks. She said any financial assistance will help, but also worries loans would take years to pay off.

“We need help. I don’t know what to do except cry,” she said.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday his office has convened a state COVID-19 Economic Retention and Recovery Task Force with information on resources like tax extensions and payment plans.

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