I’ve heard it said, “We may be in this COVID-19 storm together, but some of us have leaky boats.” Yes . . . and we either pull our oars together toward a brighter future for all of us, or we’ll all soon have leaky boats. Fortunately, in our community’s immediate COVID-19 response, we’ve demonstrated an encouraging degree of collaborative planning and action. It is in this same spirit that the Boulder Chamber offers a few principles to guide our collective economic recovery efforts.
Tackle Economic Inequities: We begin our recovery journey recognizing that, indeed, there has been inequitable damage from COVID-19. In particular, we know communities of color are suffering economically more than their white counterparts. As the Center for American Progress notes, “Workers of color are overrepresented in many of the low-wage jobs that are most vulnerable to potential layoffs during the coronavirus pandemic.” The staggering 45% loss in March and April of Colorado’s accommodation and food service jobs speaks to that concern. Our economic planning efforts must respond to these disparate cultural impacts.
We also know many solopreneurs and small businesses, such as restaurants, retail and personal service providers, experienced some of the worst impacts from the destructive forces of COVID-19 and received inequitable and/or unhelpful treatment in the initial response programs. Our recovery plan must administer the restorative salve they require. At the same time, we will continue to bolster the productivity of those industries that remain vibrant through the storm. Both avenues are crucial to revitalizing pillars of our economic vitality and we must pursue them with equal vigor.
Strategically Focused and Adaptive: Whether economists predict a V-shaped, U-shaped, W-shaped, or even the “Nike swoosh” recovery, they all presume a common theme: It could take a long time to fully “recover,” and that recovery may not be in a straight line. As the Federal Reserve vice chair stated, “[T]he course of the economy is really going to depend on the course of the virus and the mitigation efforts.” Still, we cannot let this choppy course deter us from strategic planning that directs our limited resources to the most impactful tactics.
Thoughtful planning begins with actionable data and on-the-ground, industry-specific observations. This information will help us establish support plans for industries as diverse as aerospace and the arts, with focused action and investment priorities designed to achieve short-term relief and long-term vitality. Yet the COVID-19 virus will be with us until reliable therapies and vaccines are available. Our plans, therefore, must be adaptive to the anticipated economic turbulence that ensuing adjustments in public health protections precipitate, while maintaining a consistent guiding vision for our recovery goals.
Challenge Assumptions: COVID-19 will leave a legacy of impacts on business operations and our economic landscape that we can’t possibly fathom. When others talk of a “new normal,” though, I hesitate to join the chorus. Yes, as an example, Zoom meetings are now ingrained in our lexicon and lives. But what does that really mean for the arc of Boulder’s economic recovery?
Global survey data finds that the experience with COVID-19 has increased employee preference for working from home by 49%. This might lead to projections of everyone telecommuting and Boulder office buildings turning into condos. Yet I reflect on the recent pre-COVID-19 decision of one large local technology company to reverse course and draw employees back to the office, recognizing that in-person engagement drives greater collaboration and innovation. The lesson: We must test our assumptions or risk pointing our recovery plan in the wrong direction.
We Can Do Better: Just as with the social and economic inequities I highlighted earlier, COVID-19 laid bare many of the cans we’ve kicked down the road. The business community faced repeated roadblocks in recent years to our calls for greater efficiency in business development review processes, accelerated investment in broadband infrastructure, increased housing diversity and more respect for the needs of our commercial sector. Hear us now!
The Boulder Chamber is and always will be a partner with residents and civic leaders in pursuing the goals we share for our environment, social safety net and quality of life. At the same time, when we call attention to those things that threaten our economy, we expect a reciprocal degree of partnership. If COVID-19 highlights anything, it’s that we all have a stake in the strength of our economy.
Let’s pull the oars together as we embark on our economic recovery journey and, following the above guiding principles, set the course for a brighter Boulder future.
Originally published in BizWest