(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s largest business groups are using such words as “devastating” and “extinction-level” to describe the economic problems created by the state’s coronavirus lockdown.

Wisconsin’s Manufacturers and Commerce and the state’s Restaurant Association were just two of the groups pressing lawmakers to reopen the state on Thursday.

The groups said many businesses cannot wait another month to reopen.

Wisconsin Restaurant Association President Kristine Hillmer says half the state’s restaurants could close forever if the lockdown lasts longer.

“Prior to the crisis, there were 12,796 eating and drink establishments in our state. We employed over 284,000 people, representing about 9 percent of people in our state,” Hillmer said. “That represented $10.1 billion in estimated sales in Wisconsin.”

Hillmer said the numbers today are very different.

“A survey conducted between April 10 and April 16 this year illustrates the devastating impact on our industry,” Hillmer said. “One hundred thirty-six thousand-plus restaurant employees have been laid off or furloughed since the beginning of the outbreak.”

WMC’s Scott Manley said it is an economic imperative to reopen the state’s economy.

“As we sit here, right now, we have 19 percent unemployment. That is twice as high as it was during the worst days of the Great Recession,” Manley said. “We’ve got 450,000 people who’ve filed for unemployment claims since social distancing regulations took effect.”

Manley added that most stores had seen their foot traffic cut in half, and restaurants and bars in the state have it worse than that.

Governor Evers says he’s willing to talk about reopening the state, but wants to see a plan from Republicans first.

Hillmer said that lawmakers and the governor should be working together, not squabbling.

“It is urgent that we use this time to figure out how these businesses can reopen, safely,” Hillmer told lawmakers.

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.