Great Depression changed America for the better. So will 2020 pandemic

When we look back 20 years from now at the year 2020, I hope we will see this was a launching point for major achievements for our region and nation.

I believe there will be a change in how we continue to live our lives, and history points to shifts in human behavior after periods of strife. With this in mind, the Pasco Chamber of Commerce is goal setting to prepare for opportunities as we move forward.

My grandparents grew up during the Depression era.

They continued to save plastic foam meat trays until they passed away.

As I was growing up, I witnessed the permanent effects of the Great Depression on their lifestyle. Food wasn’t thrown away. Leftovers made the neighborhood squirrels in Pasco fatter, fed the dog and often ended up in my grandfather’s famous grits with chopped leftovers as featured ingredients.

But the Depression brought us major technological advances.

Agriculture became much more efficient and production techniques and applications increased yields dramatically, primarily driven by the Dust Bowl and weak commodity prices.

Locally, we began the foundation of creating the great Columbia Basin, capitalizing on the abundance of water and rich soil. This led to irrigation with the construction of Grand Coulee Dam, allowing a desert to turn into a prime agriculture-producing region.

The Depression also saw the invention of sliced bread, nylon toothbrushes and car radios – all this we all use daily nearly 100 years later.

What can we take away as positives from 2020?

Virtual meetings created a new efficiency by eliminating travel time. Meetings take less time than in person.

We also schedule meetings more often in each workday. A drawback is missing human connection that is important to our health and minimizing effective networking that made those meetings take longer.

However, this was an excellent opportunity for me and many other families – spending more time together as families and eliminating the rush of “normal” life.

Sure, that poses new challenges, such as remote learning and interruptions during Zoom calls inquiring as to what was for lunch. Our dogs seem to be thrilled with the new setup, yet the cats still really don’t care. 

I believe there will be a permanent shift to remote working for some industries. Some studies show efficiency is maintained in these new hybrid work environments with a decrease in overhead for the business.

With this shift, our region is seeing an influx of transplants from Seattle and Portland. This has been indicated by the strong housing market in the Tri-Cities over the summer. Anecdotally, we have seen an increase in calls to the Pasco Chamber inquiring about our area.

These transplants bring with them higher earnings, but will they use that money to shop local businesses or will they seek goods normally found in metro areas via online shopping platforms? Are they going to bring their ideals and politics that led to policies they are escaping from?

It will be interesting how brick-and-mortar retail adapt as we come out of this period. Restaurants and clothing stores have suffered immensely, yet food trucks and online shopping have maintained or increased.

Will remote work and shifting away from traditional retail have a lasting effect on commercial property? 

Energy production is more apparent than ever.

The increasing need for constant reliable energy is monumental. Washington state has an aggressive goal to rely on 100% clean energy by 2045.

As fossil fuel energy plants such as the Portland General Electric coal plant at Boardman, Oregon, shut down, we need to focus on not ending up like California with brownouts and blackouts.

We need to maintain baseload energy such as hydropower and add additional energy sources by expanding nuclear.

The Pasco Chamber has endured its fair share of interruption of normal routine with cancellations of events with large gatherings. We have adapted and explored new opportunities. 

For example, RiverFest pivoted away from a large community event drawing thousands of families to Columbia Park to celebrate our river system, to create a quality documentary titled, “Our Rivers, Our Life.”

This hourlong presentation has engaged thousands in the Northwest telling the story of our river system. Watch it at riverfestwa.com.

We also helped disperse $400,000 in federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act business grants on behalf of Franklin County in a matter of hours. 

This indicates the hardship that many small businesses are facing due to restrictions and lockdowns. In April, the Pasco Chamber urged the governor not to shut down business and to take an approach that would provide measures to keep our population safe but not impact chosen businesses, adversely affecting their livelihood. 

Unfortunately, a lot of businesses and livelihoods are casualties of war against a virus that can’t be defeated by actions that are influenced by political whims. As Franklin County businesses continue to fight for their livelihoods, the Pasco Chamber seeks to find compromises in their ability to function in some capacity and keep their doors open.

The Pasco Chamber will advocate on behalf of our businesses and community to foster growth and adaptation for the future. What will be life changing that is invented because of our recent experiences? I am hopeful that there will be a perfect environment for businesses to become more innovative. Perhaps, the biggest inventions will come in the areas of biotech, medical devices, transportation, broadband, energy and hygiene. We have the resources in our region to make that happen.

We can all agree that 2020 has been a different year but looking back, I expect we’ll find that it was the catalyst for a lot of positive change for both our region and our nation.

Colin Hastings is executive director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce.

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