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‘Send More Money': Business Leaders In Broward Meet With U.S. Secretary Of Commerce

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Caitie Switalski Muñoz
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WLRN
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, right, sits on a sofa for sale with City Furniture President Andrew Koenig.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, toured City Furniture's headquarters in Tamarac Friday. He then joined local business leaders from several industries to ask them what they need from the federal government to recover during the pandemic.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross met with Broward County business leaders in Tamarac Friday. County Mayor Dale Holness presented him with a symbolic key to the county.

"What door does it open?" Ross joked.

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A Palm Beach County resident when he's not in Washington, Ross had a couple of missions while he was down in Broward: The first was to welcome 40 new citizens at a naturalization ceremony.

"I knew they'd be a lot of Latin Americans coming in here. I didn't realize there'd be people from Taiwan, people from India, people from all over the place," he said. "That's a big tribute to the driving power of this part of Florida."

To tout the driving power of this part of Florida, Ross also toured City Furniture's headquarters and showroom to highlight a business that's not only surviving the pandemic, but one that's continuing to invest in expansion and hiring.

City Furniture's virtual sales went from four percent last year to 12 percent during the pandemic, according to the company. They have plans to expand into Tampa.

Ross's other mission during the visit included listening to a variety of business leaders during a roundtable organized by City Furniture and the county's public/private economic development partnership, The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

Ross was attentive, taking copious notes and asking questions about how various industries are doing here. He heard from leaders in Broward's banking, accounting, airlines, education and local government sectors who shared what is and isn't working for them.

They each echoed a similar sentiment: The CARES Act helped ... but send more money.

Many asked about federal aid for the tourism and hospitality industry, to which Ross offered ideas:

"The best thing for the transportation and hotel industry would be to have rapid testing as people enter the facility, even with a commercial airline," he said. "If just before you went through the security check, you had a rapid test and the results got to you by the time you got to the gate it would change the whole way that people think about air travel. Same thing with a hotel. That's my suggestion ... the best thing that industry can do to solve itself. Other than that, general stimulation to the economy would clearly be a good thing."

Ross said he is also hopeful the next federal stimulus package will happen soon, but he doesn't think that's likely before Nov. 3.

"Well, these stimulus conversations, unfortunately, are at a bit of an impasse," he said. "As the president has said, it doesn't look as though Speaker Pelosi wants to have a deal before the election."

About 30% of people in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metro area expect to lose income sometime in the next month, according to bi-monthly U.S. Census data. And 41% of people in the area are not current on rent or mortgage, where eviction or foreclosure in the next two months is either very likely or somewhat likely.

The Census itself falls under Ross's purview in the Department of Commerce. The count ended on Oct. 15.

"It didn't end abruptly," Ross said. "It ended when a longer time than we had wanted it to. 99.8 percent is essentially 100 percent, because you never get to 100 percent."

Some of the most difficult areas to count people included parts of Louisiana affected by recent hurricanes, as well as Native American reservations.

U.S. Supreme Court justices have fast-tracked, and are set to hear, oral arguments about a controversial White House memo related to the Census count at the end of next month.

The Trump administration's memo attempts to exclude undocumented immigrants in the final Census numbers as it relates to reapportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.