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"A gut-wrenching decision" | Local business owners choose between laying off employees or closing down for good

After 20 years in the catering industry, this is the first time Neal Green has laid off employees. He doesn't know when he'll be able to hire them again.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — When Neal Green first started his own catering company, money was always tight. Sometimes, he'd have to call his vendors and ask for an extension on payments.

Now, about 20 years later, he's finding himself in a similar situation.

"We're down to about two or three corporate customers that we’re feeding box lunches to," Green told 10News. "A normal day for us is having 10 to 13 events going on." 

Like many small business owners, Green is feeling the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier this week, he laid off 28 of his 38 full-time employees. 

"It's the first time in 20 years we've ever had to lay off somebody," Green said. "It has been a gut-wrenching decision that I lay awake at night about."

In East Tennessee, other small businesses are making similar cuts to stay afloat.

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Tupelo Honey wrote on Facebook that it was forced to "temporarily layoff 85% of our workforce across all 15 locations and our headquarters." It added that every single one hurt. 

That's been the worst part for Green.

"It's just very disheartening as an owner," he said. "We always want our people to be working."

In Tennessee, more than 6,000 people filed for unemployment between March 8 and 15. Just 2,000 people filed for unemployment the week prior.

By summer, the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive research group, estimates there will be 3 million jobs lost due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"It's been a time to reflect and a time to be sorrowful," Green said. 

He's not sure when he'll be able to rehire any of his work family, but he said he is looking forward to when that day comes. 

"We love them and we want them to get back to work as soon as possible," Green said. "I do hope that our generation teaches [younger generations] the tenacity to continue to go forward each and every day and not only survive, but do good." 

If you were laid off, you can file for unemployment at jobs4tn.gov.

Some essential businesses are also looking to add workers. You can find a list of places hiring online.

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