Kevin Hancock (Hancock Lumber) Communicates Business Concerns

Letter from Kevin Hancock to DECD Commissioner Heather Johnson (Thursday April 30)


Hello! I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. There is BROAD concern about the Governor’s initial plan being disproportional to the actual COVID threat in Maine AND neglecting of other threats of perhaps equal or greater consequence.

A few additional thoughts beyond that which I shared with the Governor yesterday include:

The health risks of extended quarantine with social and economic restrictions likely outweigh the benefits.

  • I believe we have passed the point where the isolation and anxiety of quarantine are causing more social and wellness damage than the risk of the virus we are avoiding. Kids out of school / food inequality / domestic challenges / economic stress. The quarantine itself causes certain health problems to expand. How do we know we aren’t causing more problems than we are solving at this point? As of yesterday, as you know, only 32 people in Maine were hospitalized due to the virus. I believe thousands of people in Maine are having their wellness impacted today by the quarantine. On a pure health basis, I believe the quarantine extension beyond early May is likely to do more harm than good.

I don’t believe this plan (as announced earlier this week) has broad based citizen support.

  • I am concerned about how few people participated in the plan development process and I do not believe it represents the authentic will of the people of Maine.
  • One could then say, well the people of Maine don’t know what’s best for them but that is a very slippery leadership slope.

The challenge economically and socially is not going to be getting people to continue to quarantine – it’s going to be to get them to come out and normalize.

  • The plan announced earlier this week was so short on confidence, encouragement, trust, and hope.

Making announcements about August is detrimental by any standard.

  • Back in March we decided at Hancock Lumber that we were going to “live in real time” with respect to decision making. Laying out August restrictions in April has large negative consequences economically and spiritually and no practical planning benefit. The impact of restricting August in April is only negative.

Finally, has anyone assessed the economic AND wellness costs of the extended quarantine plan? If so, what are they? If not, how do we calculate the tradeoffs we are being asked to make?

I appreciate the communication and I would be happy to speak with you! Let me know what works! I’m not frustrated – I’m just trying to participate and bring some big picture balance to our plan so that it truly does reflect the will of the people and spark a safe economic recovery vs. unnecessarily further wounding our already fragile economic position and collective psychology.

Kevin Hancock
Chairman & CEO/ Hancock Lumber


Letter to Governor Mills (Wednesday April 29th)

Governor Mills,

I appreciate you and your leadership and I understand the tough choices you face but I am very concerned about the “gradual plan to restart Maine’s economy”. My view is that the restart plan as currently constructed will be even more economically damaging than the initial stay at home phase that is soon ending.

My concerns include:

  1. The focus on 14 day quarantine movement restrictions for both residents and non-residents.
  2. The time frame expectations which run to September 1, 2020 and therefore cover the all-important summer economy in Maine.
  3. The delay of retail store openings until June.
  4. The potential addition of face masks for situations that heretofore have not required face masks.
  5. The overall lack of encouragement and confidence building that is missing from the implementation language but required to set the economy safely back in motion.
  6. The lack of trust the plan confers in the simple yet powerful ability of Maine citizens and visitors to use good judgment, make smart choices, and restore maximum normalcy sooner while still distancing.
  7. The lack of calculations publicly shared regarding the estimated economic cost of this restart plan as currently constructed.
  8. The seeming lack of proportionality to this re-opening plan given the reality that we have approximately 400 active confirmed cases across a large and rural geographic state population of approximately 1,388,000.

Emphasis on 14 quarantine days for movement across state lines.

I may well be naïve or not fully informed yet but the quarantine restrictions (taken literally) seem to be economically crippling to the Maine summer economy and simultaneously totally unenforceable. So many questions surface…

  • If I drive to North Conway to visit our Hancock Lumber store for the day must I quarantine for 14 days? Or, if I live in Fryeburg and shop at Hannaford in North Conway must I then quarantine? If I live in York and go see a doctor in Portsmouth must I then quarantine? If I visit a family member out of state must I then quarantine? Why a barrier between Fryeburg and North Conway / Bethel and Berlin / York and Portsmouth? I don’t get it?
  • Doesn’t this quarantine requirement essentially close the summer ‘vacationland’ economy for 2020? Doesn’t it largely eliminate the entire and substantial second home community in Maine from making weekend or single week trips to Maine?
  • Doesn’t this quarantine requirement essentially eliminate all personal, business, and vacation travel to and from Maine for the entire summer?

I thought New England working TOGETHER as a single community was supposed to be a core planning premise? I don’t understand the significance of the border restrictions. If someone is in Vermont for two days but distances responsibly why is that any different than distancing in Maine? It seems to me that acting responsibly and practicing distancing is much more important than whether or not someone is in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Canada, or Connecticut.

Additionally I have the following concerns:

  • Expectations that restrictions will be in place until September for a large, rural state with 400 active cases seems excessive and lacks the important messages of trust and confidence.
  • It seems to me that any retail store that can meet the same distancing and capacity standards that Hannaford or Hancock Lumber meet today should be allowed to open now.
  • Companies like Hannaford or Hancock Lumber who have been operating effectively without face masks should not be required to add them now. The face masks worn are of dubious and unproven effectiveness, send a very negative subliminal message, are likely less effective than 6’ distancing, and may not even be healthy in their own right for people working 8 – 10 hour days in retail.
  • I believe that more confidence should be placed in the hands of private citizens to make good choices, social distance wherever possible, and restore greater economic normalcy faster. I believe Maine citizens are capable of a faster economic recovery without any material impact on health and public safety.

I am honestly afraid that the economic cost of the recovery period (May 1 – September 1) as currently outlined with the 14 day border crossing quarantine is going to be larger and more damaging than the original shutdown phase. Has anyone estimated the economic cost of 14 day border quarantine? We should all know the estimated cost of our choices. How else could we reasonably choose?
In closing, my favorite business thinker is Jim Collins. One of his core recommendations is embracing “the power of the AND” vs. “the tyranny of the OR”. In this simple paradigm shift the thinking transitions from “we can have freedom of movement OR we can be safe” to “we can have freedom of movement AND we can be safe”.

Those of us companies that have been open and functioning since the stay at home order began likely do have more confidence in our collective abilities because we have been operating safely and effectively for nearly two months now. I doubt, for example, that those who worked through the virus will have a higher % of cases than those who stayed home.

I am really worried about the economic implications of the 14 day quarantine requirement for state border crossings on the summer economy of Maine and I owe it to you and Maine to say so. I think there are more effective ways to be careful that do less damage to our already hobbled economy. I appreciate you and your willingness to both listen and lead. Hopefully this recovery plan can be highly fluid and continue to evolve. Thank you.

Kevin Hancock
Chairman & CEO/ Hancock Lumber