Economic challenge requires resourcefulness, resolve

Reopening Washington’s economy while fighting the coronavirus will be an incredible challenge, but there is a way forward.

We’ll get through this.

The path forward requires sober assessment of what we’re up against: A crisis that has put us on a path toward 1 million unemployed, with one in five Washington workers out of a job as of early May.

Going into this year, we already had concerns about unemployment rising in more counties than not. The COVID-19 pandemic magnifies those concerns exponentially, and it will change our economy and our lives for years to come.

It’s clear we won’t return to a pre-COVID “normal” any time soon, and in some ways our lives and economy will be permanently changed. Many businesses have closed forever. Hundreds of thousands of families have lost work and are scrambling to survive economically. At the same time, we know that trials often lead to innovation.

Here in Washington, thousands of people have fallen ill to the disease, and tragically hundreds have lost their lives. As we reflect in our new normal of isolation and quarantine, it’s important to remember those who have passed on.

One of the ways we can honor their memory is by building a safe and secure economic future for our state.

This means getting back to work, safely, keeping the health of employees and customers paramount. To this end, AWB has created a Rebound and Recovery Task Force and supports the Western States Pact with other business associations from Oregon and California. We’ve offered to help the Washington, Oregon and California governors reopen the region safely.

Employers will have to adapt to new safety standards and ways of doing business, giving confidence to our customers, employees and communities alike. This move will be easier for some than others. Employers will have to navigate social distancing, personal protective equipment, frequent cleaning and sanitizing, working in shifts and more.

The economic challenges also will require creativity and resourcefulness. Many employers have already adapted to curbside pickup, home delivery, home visits, online services and other measures to defeat the challenges posed by the virus.

Browsers Bookshop in Olympia is offering home deliveries and sending books by mail. Heritage Distilling, Sandstone Distillery and others have quickly added hand sanitizer to their product offerings. Duncan Produce in Eastern Washington began selling directly to consumers with drive-through service after its restaurant sales dropped.

These are just a few examples of small business creativity in Washington. For others, though, it’s a real challenge and there may not be creative options. Different regions and different sectors are impacted in different ways.

AWB encourages our lawmakers to embrace creativity as well.

Congress and the Washington Legislature can help us get to a faster economic recovery. This is a historic challenge by any measure—and our lawmakers should rise to the challenge by supporting bigger and bolder solutions than they ever have before. We’re fighting now to keep our Main Street small businesses alive—the lifeblood of our communities in each of the state’s 39 counties.

Our businesses need tax relief, access to state and federal grants, personal protective equipment, safety training and testing. We need investments in critical infrastructure, aiding in the immediate recovery and setting the building blocks of tomorrow’s economy.

Rebuilding the economy will take an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach.

Our current experience reminds me of the lessons from the Greatest Generation that survived the Great Depression and World War II.

The Great Depression lasted from 1929-39. American’s involvement in World War II lasted from 1941-45. These were long, hard fights before victory.

The Americans who emerged from these trials created the strongest economy in the history of the world. Their values of hard work, community involvement, teamwork and public service are still with us today.

It’s in this spirit that we should rebuild a better Washington.

Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.

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