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Fears about virus hit Asian American businesses



NEW YORK — In Arizona, a burgeoning Asian American community fields xenophobic calls about a planned night market featuring Asian street foods. In New York, a dim sum restaurant owner worries he won’t make rent. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a local Asian American-owned restaurant chain is mulling temporarily shuttering one of its properties because of the downturn in trade.

In major U.S. cities, Asian American businesses are seeing a remarkable decline in customers as fear about the viral outbreak from China spreads. City and health officials are trying to stanch the financial bleeding through information campaigns and personal visits to shops and restaurants, emphasizing that, with just 15 cases diagnosed in the entire country, there is no reason to avoid them.

Business owners, some of whom have seen their customer traffic cut by more than half, are anxiously waiting for things to return to normal.

The freshly crowned Asian District in Mesa, Ariz.,was deep into organizing its night market when news broke that a case of the illness known as Covid-19 was confirmed at nearby Arizona State University.

Xenophobic comments on social media and phone calls started almost immediately, according to Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce CEO Vicente Reid.

“I probably should stop picking up my phone altogether,” Reid said. “One lady was like, ‘Well, aren’t people coming to your event that are the cause of it?'”

The Feb. 29 food festival, modeled after popular outdoor Taiwanese markets, was designed to get the public acquainted with the district.

Mesa Mayor John Giles called the xenophobia directed at the event “ridiculous.”

“We certainly take any health crisis seriously but to make those kinds of connections is just offensive,” he said.

Organizers will be handing out specially made masks with playful Asian-food theme slogans like “Bao to me” and “Insert lumpia here.”

The virus has sickened tens of thousands of people, mostly in China. Fifteen people have been diagnosed with the virus in the U.S., all but two who recently traveled from China. U.S. citizens have also been diagnosed abroad, including 14 who were on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan and have been taken to hospitals in the U.S.


Vegetarian Dim Sum House has been a fixture in Manhattan’s Chinatown for 23 years, but suddenly owner Frankie Chu said he will not be able to make his rent this month.

Chu said sales have plunged 70% over the past two weeks at his no-frills restaurant. Three couples trickled in for lunch on a recent weekday. Normally, Chu said he gets up to 30 customers for lunch. At dinnertime, his narrow restaurant is usually packed with about 70 diners. These days, he gets about four.

Chu has sent some of his staff on vacation to cut costs. Under the circumstances, he will ask his landlord to forgive a 5% late fee normally charged.

“I don’t know how long I can stay here,” Chu said. “After 9/11, it wasn’t this bad.”

The crisis has alarmed New York City officials and business leaders, who have launched a campaign to lure people back to hard-hit communities in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

“Chinatown is bleeding,” said Wellington Chen, executive chairman of the Chinatown Partnership, a local business and community group. “This thing is thousands of miles away. This fear is really out of proportion.”

Small businesses in Manhattan’s Chinatown have reported sales drops of between 40% and 80% the past month as the viral outbreak in China spread, Chen said. In Flushing, business is down an estimated 40%, according to the Flushing Chinese Business Association.

For some businesses, it’s much higher. Derek Law, senior vice chairman of the America China Hotel Association, said business has dropped about 70% at a spa he owns in Flushing.

New York City is home to more than half a million Chinese Americans, the biggest population of any U.S. city. Some New Yorkers of Chinese descent are frustrated at being made to feel like foreigners because of a disease outbreak that feels as far away to them as any other resident.

“I’m probably more American than a lot of the people asking me about coronavirus. It’s a little annoying, to be honest,” said Christina Seid, owner of the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, a neighborhood fixture that her father founded four decades ago with flavor offerings like mango and green tea.

Seid, whose great-grandparents immigrated to New York from China, said business has been slower than usual but added that the winter months are never good for ice cream shops. She said she feels optimistic that things will soon return to normal, relying on New Yorkers’ determination to get on with life.


With no confirmed cases of the virus in New York City, officials and politicians are trying to drive home the point that there is no reason to avoid any neighborhood, with many eating at Chinese restaurants and tweeting out photos under the hashtags #supportchinatown.

In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh has launched a similar social media campaign, encouraging people to share photos of themselves supporting small businesses in the neighborhood with the hashtag #LoveBostonChinatown.

Allison Arwady, the Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner, said she and her colleagues “continue to field rumors” about threats to public health. She said the health risk is low and urged people to not fear visiting and spending time at restaurants or stores in Chicago’s Chinatown.

“Please do not allow stigma, xenophobia or fear to control your decisions,” Arwady said.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the situation is dire enough that Sunny Wong’s family is considering temporarily closing one of the four restaurants it owns in Oakland’s Chinatown. Even some of his friends and patrons have told him about hearing of untrue rumors of people getting sick at one of his restaurants.

“People just are clueless. They hear stories and rumors and they just don’t really look for the facts in a situation,” said Wong, adding that he has had to cut back hours for his workers.

Carl Chan, president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, said business owners have reported a drop of roughly 50% to 75% in business. The chamber is planning a Chinese New Year celebration, with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf encouraging residents to patronize Chinatown restaurants.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently visited Nom Wah Tea Parlor, the oldest restaurant in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

The restaurant has seen a 40% drop in business over the past three weeks, said manager Vincent Tang, whose cousin Wilson Tang took over the restaurant from his father. Normally, the restaurant fills up at lunchtime. But during a recent weekday, nearly half the tables were empty, although it was at least busier than many of its lesser-known neighbors.

“We’re lucky to have loyal customers,” said Tang, sitting near a row of green stools that he used to swing around in as a child. “Usually at this time we are packed and there is a line outside.”

Customers at Nom Wah said they were perplexed that others were staying away.

“It didn’t cross my mind at all,” said Kate Masterson, an artist digging into dumplings with her uncle at a booth beneath signed framed photographs of celebrities such as Kirsten Dunst.

“It’s not happening here,” she said of the outbreak.

Information for this article was contributed by Noreen Nasir and Terry Chea of the Associated Press.

SundayMonday Business on 02/23/2020

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As work from home becomes the norm, companies get more comfortable hiring fully remote employees



Working from home for the past few weeks? You might have a serious case of cabin fever by now. Or then again, you may have found you prefer it to your former routine. If you’d rather not go back to the office even after the pandemic is finally over, this might be the moment to start looking for a new job that allows—or requires—you to stay home.

Remote job openings were proliferating well before this crisis, rising 270% since 2017, according to new research by job search engine Adzuna that analyzed 4.5 million U.S. postings. Now, spurred on by COVID-19, it seems even more employers want the chance to recruit from a vast talent pool unrestricted by geographic distance.

“Our data shows a continued increase in work-from-home vacancies,” notes Adzuna cofounder Andrew Hunter. Companies that never recruited many (or any) virtual employees before are “embarking on a giant work-from-home experiment,” he adds. “The standard office-based job is increasingly a thing of the past.”

One place to start looking for remote work: Job site FlexJobs has come up with a list of the 35 U.S. employers who are doing the most work-from-home recruiting right now, along with brief descriptions of what kinds of roles they need to fill. For instance, Aetna (#2 on the ranking behind Adobe) is looking for social workers, a lead data scientist, and registered nurses to work as case managers. Dell (#6) is seeking cybersecurity pros and an infrastructure automation engineer.

While both Adzuna and FlexJobs data suggest many current openings call for tech or health care skills, employers are also hiring remote employees in sales, accounting, customer service, human resources, and other fields, some of them highly specialized. UnitedHealth Group, for example, is seeking an expert in dealing with the medical bureaucracy at the Veterans Administration.

Planning to apply? Beyond having the skills and experience in the job description, employers want to see evidence that you’re flexible enough to work alone. So rewrite your resume and cover letter to emphasize, for instance, projects where you collaborated with distant teammates, maybe across different time zones. Since working at home means you’ll have limited access to the company IT help desk, it’s smart to include a list of the collaboration software and web and video conferencing tools you know how to use.

A tip from FlexJobs: Interviewers for remote jobs usually ask the same questions as for other roles, but get ready for a few twists. The virtual-work equivalent of the old stand-by “What’s your greatest weakness?”, for example, is “Why do you want to work remotely?”

This query can be such a minefield for the unprepared that FlexJobs’ report recommends bringing it up yourself even if the interviewer doesn’t ask. Maybe you’ve found that you’re much more productive working at home than in your old noisy open-plan office, or maybe you live in an area where opportunities in your field are scarce (or require a long commute). If you’re enthusiastic about the chance to work for this particular company, remotely or not, don’t forget to say so.

If you can draw a specific example or two from your current remote work, demonstrating how you’ve been able to achieve results from home that equal or exceed what you could have accomplished in the office, so much better. The point is to reassure the interviewer that, even if your only work-at-home experience so far has been dictated by COVID-19, you’re a safe bet as a stellar remote employee in the future.

More must-read careers coverage from Fortune:

—3 ways to manage conflict when you work remotely
—How to job hunt during the coronavirus pandemic
—Everything you need to know about furloughs—and what they mean for workers
—4 things to say if recruiters call you during the coronavirus pandemic
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
—WATCH: 401(k) withdrawal penalties waived for anyone hurt by COVID-19

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Google G Suite passes 6 million customers



Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a conference in Brussels on January 20, 2020.

Kenzo Tribouillard | AFP | Getty Images

Google’s G Suite bundle of productivity software for businesses, schools and governments had over 6 million paying businesses in March, up from 5 million in February 2019, executive Javier Soltero told CNBC on Tuesday.

The growth comes in an increasingly important area for Google parent Alphabet, which disclosed cloud revenue, including from G Suite, for the first time in February. Expansion in the category could help Alphabet grow outside its core area of advertising, which made up 83% of Alphabet’s revenue last year.

However, G Suite in particular faces stiff competition from Microsoft’s entrenched Office suite and Office 365 set of cloud-based services, which had 87.5% of the market for productivity suites in 2018 versus Google’s 10.4%, according to estimates shared by industry-research company Gartner.

“The business of G Suite is growing at an incredibly healthy and, frankly for me, surprising rate,” Javier Soltero, vice president and general manager of G Suite at Google, told CNBC in an interview on Tuesday. Soltero joined Google in October after working at Microsoft, where he had been corporate vice president for the Office product group, among other roles.

Millions of people have been working from home to reduce the spread of coronavirus. That has boosted adoption of the Google Meet productivity-oriented video-calling service, one component of G Suite alongside Gmail, Google Drive and other services. The service has 25 times more users than it did in January, Soltero said. Google Meet is separate from the consumer-focused Hangouts, which is available to anyone with a Google account.

Last month, as cases of COVID-19 were ramping up, Google extended features of Meets — including space for up to 250 participants on any given call and live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers on a domain — that are normally reserved for customers of the G Suite enterprise tier of service to all of its G Suite customers until July 1. Now that’s been extended until September 30. 

Services that compete with Meet, like Cisco’s Webex, Zoom and Microsoft’s Teams, have also taken on new users in the past few months.

Alphabet had $2.61 billion in cloud revenue in the fourth quarter, up 53% on an annualized basis, representing 5.7% of total revenue. The total includes contributions from Google Cloud Platform, the cloud infrastructure for running third-party applications that competes with Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon Web Services. “The growth rate of GCP was meaningfully higher than that of cloud overall,” Alphabet finance chief Ruth Porat told analysts in February, noting that G Suite growth comes from increase in the number of seats and the amount of revenue the company pulls in from each seat.

Google made Meet and Google Classroom available to 1.3 million New York City students in just days as the city’s education department sought to stop the use of Zoom, Soltero said. And within days, he said, the company delivered access to millions of students in Italy following a request from that country’s ministry of education. After working in enterprise software for 25 years, Soltero was surprised how quickly Google was able to roll out its services to so many people. 

“We are guided by building products that people choose. That’s a core principle. That’s been what I’ve admired about G Suite from the beginning,” he said.

WATCH: NYC education department tells principals to stop using Zoom, citing privacy concerns

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Young Adults, Burdened With Debt, Are Now Facing an Economic Crisis



The last time a serious economic downturn hit in 2008, Evan Schade was in high school and the crisis seemed like a news event that happened to other people. This time, as the coronavirus has brought the economy to its knees, it has become a personal affair.

When nonessential businesses were closed last month in Kansas City, Mo., where he lives, Mr. Schade, 26, lost his job at a carpet store and almost all of the shifts in his second job at a coffee shop. His girlfriend, Kaitlyn Gardner, 23, was laid off from a different coffee shop.

The money they have in their bank accounts, just over $1,000, is enough to cover only April’s $800 rent check — forget about his $300 student loan payments or the health insurance he was hoping to finally sign up for. The couple have spent their time at home applying for unemployment and fruitlessly looking for new work.

“I know so many people my age who are going through the exact same thing,” Ms. Gardner said.

The youngest American adults are facing what is, for most of them, the first serious economic crisis of their working lives. By most measures, they are woefully unprepared.

“Nowadays I might get a $5 order from McDonald’s after three hours of waiting,” he said.

Mr. Lawson has a 2-year-old and a pregnant wife, who does not work. They were down to eating plain noodles until he visited a food bank and got a bag of potatoes and some carrots. He has set up accounts on all the social networks to broadcast his need for work — any work.

“Give me something I could feed my family with,” he said. “I don’t care what it is.”

The inequality among millennials is even more evident when race is taken into account. Young black families at all educational levels have fallen further behind their white peers over the last two decades in measures like household wealth and homeownership, according to research from New America.

“Over time, it is becoming more difficult for young families to accumulate wealth,” said William R. Emmons, the lead economist at the St. Louis Federal Reserve’s Center for Household Financial Stability. “We thought maybe they’d catch up later, but the current situation doesn’t give me much reason to believe that’s going to happen.”

These disadvantages are already shaping the long-term prospects of young Americans. They are much less likely to be married, have children or own a house than Americans of a similar age in decades past.

Ms. Gardner said that she and Mr. Schade eventually wanted to have a family and a house. But she said, “We’re both going to be in debt for a while, and having kids is just not feasible.”

While there is a chance the downturn will be short, economists are assuming that the turmoil that has already happened will have long-term consequences for young households.

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