Stamford, CT - COVID has impacted all aspects of our lives, and every community in the US and around the world has suffered immense losses due to the deadly virus, taking a toll on our emotional, physical and economic wellbeing. Indian American businesses, especially in the hospitality, travel & tour groups, restaurants and some professional practices, have suffered huge losses. Federal and state agencies have been helping many businesses and professional practitioners to get back to their normal business. However, much more help is needed to get back to normal.
In this context, a virtual conference held Thursday, March 18 via Zoom, titled “Current and Post Covid: Getting Back to Normal Business – An Indian American Perspective in Connecticut”, with the participation of Connecticut lawmakers, was organized by the GOPIO-CT Chapter, considered one of the most active chapters of GOPIO (Global Organiation of People of Indian Origin) in cooperation with the Milan Cultural Association of Hartford. Participants included state lawmakers and Indian-American business leaders and professionals, providing an opportunity to share perspectives on the impact of Covid and perceptions of the future. CT lawmakers included Speaker of the Assembly Mitt Ritter, Minority Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora and Rep. Harry Arora. The session was moderated by former Assemblyman Dr. Prasad Srinivasan.
In his opening remarks, Dr. Thomas Abraham, Trustee and Chairman of Seminar Series, GOPIO-CT, set the tone for a lengthy discussion with sharing the context and the need for such a timely topic. “This is the first time the Indian American community in Connecticut is doing such a program, bringing together lawmakers and business leaders to come together and share their perspectives on Covid and its impact on the business community in CT. This webinar will also provide the participants to hear the personal experiences. As we come out of the pandemic, we also like to see how Connecticut can take new initiatives to reach out those businesses in India who may be candidates to set up shops in America as Infosys did successfully in Hartford about two years back.”
Cecil Nazareth, Managing Partner, Nazareth CPAs & Member of the Global Tax Policy Committee, Norwalk, CT, shared her experiences during the past year as her firm struggled with the lack of cash flow. “Demand plummeted, reducing cash flow,” Nazareth was appreciative of the Federal Government stepping in with remedial measures that have “immensely helped” especially with PPP loans, “which have been a big blessing.” With Covid impacting the businesses, they have learnt to do new ways of doing business. Nazareth sought additional funding from the state and federal governments in order for the economy to move on in a healthy manner, Nazareth expressed “optimism” in the outlook for the economy.
Representing the most impacted Hotel/Hospitality, Shelly Nichani, President, Infinity Hospitality Group, Stamford, CT, said, while the industry has been severely affected by the pandemic, “financial help from the Federal government has helped much, without which it would have been catastrophic.” While stating that the hospitality industry in CT has been doing overall very well, but the pandemic has halted the path to progress. He was optimistic that with the vaccines and state help, the industry will return to normal soon.
Puneet Ramchandani, Owner of Taprock Beer Bar & Refuge (Farmington. CT) and other restaurants, while acknowledging that “Our industry has suffered much,” he said, the most challenging task was to have his “staff come back to work after we had to lay of several of them due to the pandemic. Many preferred to stay home due to unemployment benefits, and not wanting to risk their health. We did adapt to new guidelines, which were sometimes more a roadblock. So many restrictions on staff and seating. If one staff is infected others needed to be quarantined.” While the state has allowed 100% capacity in restaurants, he lamented, “People are still hesitant to go to restaurants because of the stigma and fear of being infected.”
Speaking about the impact on the Engineering/Manufacturing industry, Rakesh Narang, Founder and President of the Wire and Plastic Machinery Corp., Bristol, CT expressed gratitude to the CT government “for all the help during the worst year. My business of fiber optics was classified as an essential business and therefore we did not have to shut down and the business ran without restrictions. Federal loans helped us a lot, and we are able to make part time employees into permanent employees. Our business has picked up with travel restrictions being lifted. Hope this year will be a great year,” he added.
Prasad Chintalapudi, Vice President, Panzer Solutions, Norwalk, CT, provided a worldwide view of the growth and expansion of the IT industry in the US and around the world, since the 1990s. While there have been several ups and downs faced by the IT industry, he said, “Never has it been affected as much as due to the Covid pandemic. 2020 was a devastating year, with 30 percent revenue lost in April alone. Many consultants were let go both in US and India and most nations. PPP was came as a big rescue plan, and we have slowly recovered and after the 3rd quarter things stabilized. While expressing concern that in the past year, “No new technologies came in,” he is confident, “cloud computing, working from home and AI, contributing to be optimistic in 2021.”
Ramya Subramanian, Founder and CEO, Arka Information System Intl, Stamford, CT, shared with the audience about how she has turned the pandemic into an opportunity by starting three new companies in 2020. “We have accepted the new normal with their safety measures with masking, reconfiguring the office.” Thanking the state of CT for responding well, the young pioneer, said, “the past year’s productivity has been really higher as people working from home.” What Covid taught us is to be able to stay healthy, cleaner environment, she said. “Greener planet will make it more sustainable.”
Dr. Susheel Gupta, President, Connecticut Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (CAPI), Woodridge, CT, provided a broader perspective on how medicine has changed Healthcare Delivery has changed forever. While describing it to be a “challenging year,” Dr. Gupta said, “Government assistance through Medicaid and Medicare and the PPP loans was a huge help. When we reopened offices, patients were able to reach us, and now through telemedicine, we are able to communicate with our patients.” He agreed that “Things are normalizing slowly. However, the biggest challenge is that now more and more people are depressed needing medications to manage their mood, sleep. Vaccines will help normalize life and more visit to the offices and we will be able to serve them better,” he said.
Dr. Anil R. Diwan, President and Chairman, NanoVirisides, Inc., Shelton, CT, shared with the audience about his perspectives on Research and Development. His suggestion to the community is that “If vaccines is available, please take it. Even if you get sick, the impact will be far less.” In his opinion, “Vaccines and anti-bodies keep changing. We have gone through many types of viruses. Many had minimized the spread of Covid initially. We need to create a broad spectrum of antibody hat could attack the viruses.” He expressed confidence that his company is hopeful of finding treatment for the Covid virus.
In his keynote address, Speaker of CT House, Matt Ritter described 2020 as “strange year. Nothing we had ever anticipated, unprecedented. No state did perfectly. Our residents take seriously the advice of the government and scientific leaders. In CT, the vaccinations rates very high. It’s unfortunate that we had higher number of deaths. We will find ourselves, being able to reopen the state by Memorial Day.” While expressing gratitude for the contributions of the Indian Americans, Ritter said, “You make it diverse and successful. Collegiality and coordination between the two parties is highly appreciated.” Acknowledging that if things get worse, he said, “We will change the policy depending on the needs. By April 5th, all above 16 and up can get vaccines. That will make all the difference.”
In his response, CT Minority Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora, praised the state of Connecticut, saying “Globally overall CT has done very well. Hospitals are competing for quality care. “Discoveries of treatment for Covid had started in CT, which is understated. We need to work on the need for children. They are most impacted by our decisions. Kids got isolated more than others. We need to be focusing on the wellbeing of the kids.”
Rep. Harry Arora, stated, “GOPIO is a great organization.” While admitting that the past one year has been a period of learning in almost all areas, testing for Covid, shutting down businesses and schools, Arora said, “No rule could be followed from the past. Looking back, we had shortcomings, but we did our best. I am an advocate of vaccines and need to have more available to those most vulnerable. If we have had more seniors vaccinated and mortality could be reduced. The objective is to keep it as flu status.”
Moderator of the session former Assemblyman Dr. Prasad Srinivasan, in his eloquent speeches and coordinating the entire event, thanked GOPIO and Milan leadership for enhancing the platform and how pandemic has impacted. We are fortunate to have distinguished lawmakers and business leaders. While summering the conference, he said, “Everyone is promising and hopeful for a better future.”
Milan Cultural Association President Suresh Sharma concluded the session and thanked all speakers and the moderator.
Over the last 15 years, GOPIO-CT, a chapter of GOPIO International has become an active and dynamic organization hosting interactive sessions with policy makers and academicians, community events, youth mentoring and networking workshops, and working with other area organizations to help create a better future. GOPIO-CT – Global Organization of People of Indian Origin – serves as a non-partisan, secular, civic and community service organization – promoting awareness of Indian culture, customs and contributions of PIOs through community programs, forums, events and youth activities. It seeks to strengthen partnerships and create an ongoing dialogue with local communities.
PHOTO: Organizers and Lawmakers at the conference. Top Row, from l. to r., Dr. Thomas Abraham, Cecil Nazareth, Suresh Sharma; Middle Row: from l. to r., Rep. Harry Arora, Former Rep. Dr. Prasad Srinivasan and CT Assembly Speaker Matt Ritter; Bottom, CT Assembly Minority Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora