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Could the Deadly Coronavirus Dampen Business in China?

Industry leaders who conduct business in China have expressed worries about the new coronavirus outbreak that originated in the country and has so far claimed 17 lives and infected more than 500 other people, including those in other areas such as the U.S. and Japan.

Global markets have already witnessed a sharp decline across stocks as investors ponder the outbreak’s impact on businesses such as retail and travel — particularly ahead of the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday — as well as trade in and out of the country.

This afternoon, the World Health Organization is expected to make an announcement on whether the illness should be classified a public health emergency of international concern. The first case in the United States was confirmed Tuesday in Washington. As Americans hold their breath on a potential warning, FN takes a look at what’s top of mind for leaders in the shoe industry.

Matt Priest, president and CEO at the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America

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“For many in our industry, memories are still fresh about the impact of SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome, first reported in Asia in February 2003, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] on the region and footwear sourcing as a whole. We are closely monitoring the situation and will be providing resources to our members as it relates to the impact of the disease and the need to take precautions to stay safe and healthy. My brother is an infectious disease doctor and expert, so I’ll be relying on him for sure as well. We should all be taking this threat seriously.”

Steve Lamar, president and CEO at the American Apparel and Footwear Association

“We are concerned and watching the spread of this virus carefully. We are first and foremost concerned for our members and their workers who are in the affected regions. We are also tracking how the spread of the virus may affect travel and shipping in the region. We urge all to follow prudent health advisories and also are working with health experts and members to make sure we have the latest available facts on this crisis.”

Rick Muskat, EVP and COO at Deer Stags Concepts

“We will be watching it carefully. So far, our factories are all in a different region, so no change in travel plans yet… [Our overall strategy in China] is not changing. While we continue to develop alternative sources, China continues to be our primary sourcing country.”

Tom Florsheim Jr., chairman and CEO at Weyco Group

“It seems like China is taking a very aggressive approach to contain the virus. We are in a wait-and-see mode as far as travel plans.”

David Schwartz, president at Jack Schwartz Shoes

“As a father of three, I’m constantly looking after my children’s health. It comes down to taking precaution and planning the extra steps. I will personally be taking a facility and sourcing trip in February — the last thing I want to do is put my staff and my own health in jeopardy. This is something that we are continuing to monitor, not just by the day but by the hour. The world is an ever-changing landscape; global travel, in general, is something we plan and review thoroughly for safety reasons.”

Seth Campbell, SVP of business development at BBC International

“We are concerned. We have a constant flow of staff members going to Asia for business, and we want to make sure they are safe. We are monitoring the news very carefully and taking what we hear with a grain of salt and trying to validate what we hear from one source. The good news is that, given the timing with the Chinese New Year holiday, activity on the business side is a bit slow, and our people are not traveling there for the next few weeks. That will give us time to assess things deeper.”

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