Which Businesses Should Reopen First? A New MIT Study Has Answers.
As states plan to let businesses reopen, here’s a data-driven approach to determine who should be first in line
The grand reopening of America’s businesses has begun. On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo presented a plan for the phased reopening of the state’s businesses, while California Governor Gavin Newsom also announced that some of the state’s businesses would begin to reopen on Friday. Meanwhile, some other states have already given their businesses the green light to reopen, starting with Georgia, which allowed all kinds of businesses, including gyms, bowling alleys, and tattoo parlors, to reopen their doors starting April 24.
Governments and businesses that rely on in-person transactions are struggling with the question of how to weigh the health risks of reopening — or remaining open — against the economic and societal costs of staying closed for business owners, their employees, and communities they serve. But which types of businesses are most worth the risk?
A new study out of MIT aims to answer this question, ranking various types of businesses and public locations by weighing the danger they present for continued transmission against their economic and social benefit. (Spoiler: It doesn’t look so great for hair salons and barbershops.) The study, by Seth Benzell, Avinash Collis, and Christos Nicolaides at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on the Digital Economy, used geolocation data from 47 million smartphone users to measure the danger posed by a type of location (including the number of visitors and hours spent in a crowded space). Meanwhile, they used consumer surveys and government statistics on payroll and employment to determine a location’s social and economic benefit.
Marker spoke with Benzell, Collis, and Nicolaides about their study, what they discovered, and how policymakers and business owners should weigh the risks as local economies begin to reopen.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Marker: Can you give us some background on the study? How did you approach ranking these types of businesses and public locations by economic benefit and risk?