By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
There’s an old saying, “When the global economy sneezes, local economies get pneumonia.”
In 2020, the global economy is doing a lot more than sneezing, and local economies have a worse case of economic “pneumonia” than any of us imagined possible.
The usual chorus of doomsayers insist that even the economic implosion we are seeing around the world is just the beginning, others say a turn-around recovery is around the next corner.
We in the Tacoma area have seen this movie before.
Even with the 2008 Great Recession, the late 1990s and most of the 2000s were good times in Tacoma.
With the emergence of UWT, Go Local, SpaceWorks, Downtown on the go (DOTG), Alma Mater, R.A.I.N. and a host of other coalescing bundles and communities of vision and energy, Tacoma seemed to be approaching and embracing its ever elusive “destiny.”
For a time, in 2019, Tacoma was literally the hottest real estate market in the United States.
That was quite an achievement for a community that was not that long ago the car theft capital of the country and a few decades before that, held the highest per capita murder rate of the entire nation.
Tacoma’s city core has seen emptiness before, but Tacoma is nothing if not resilient.
Our recovery this time, like the previous ones, will be clumsy, erratic and awkward, but we, like much of the world will scrape our way back into something like economic and social stability.
We, like the rest of the world, have little interest, or even possibility, of “returning to normal”. Our landscape, our work (and commuting) schedules, our priorities and our identities have been forever changed.
The year 2020 is one of those years where there is a clear line of demarcation of life before – and after – that year.
For virtually all of us, life in the 20-teens, even 2019, seems like a distant fantasy.
Work, grocery shopping, summer vacations and travel of any kind have completely changed.
Europe has closed its borders to Americans. Even the Canadian border is closed.
Stores that were flourishing just a few months ago are shuttered. Some closed forever.
What 2021 – and beyond – will look like is anyone’s guess.
But when it comes to the economy, school, work, international trade or travel, we know one thing for certain; there will be no going back.
We will only go forward. We will continue, possibly even prevail, but our struggle will be real, and constant, and costly.
There are those who say that the COVID-19 business shutdowns are worse than the disease.
In a sense, we will never really know. But this we do know; businesses recover, lives lost (or permanently impaired) are lost forever.
As longtime residents of Tacoma know all too well, the economic bottom can feel endless.
When business ventures dry up, people leave, visions are depleted and entrepreneurship, always contagious, becomes contagious in its negative form as those with vision and resources are often the first to leave.
Some stay. And some are often the first to return.
Some established networks, like our local Chamber of Commerce and mainline civic organizations will carry on, and work toward re-establishing those crucial systems and foundations that underlie any sustainable growth.
In some ways, little has changed. Most of us still work, we still eat, shop and gather together. We just do every one of those things dramatically differently than we did in 2019 – or, in most cases as any of us ever have before.
And what that will look like a month, or six months from now, and whether it will last semi-permanently, is anyone’s guess.
Tacoma’s nickname “Grit City” is well earned. We all, from small businesses to large, established neighborhoods to struggling areas, will make it through this.
We will do what we have always done – draw on our strengths, depend on each other and move one year, one quarter, one aching decision at a time toward something new, perhaps even something entirely unexpected and never imagined by any of us.
This is the time to imagine, to move into new territory, to claim new visions.
In many ways, previous constraints and expectations have fallen away.
The future, as never before, is in our hands.
We have been on this rocky road before.
The way before us is more uncertain than it has ever been.
But as Joseph Campbell put it, “If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”
Our job, our meta-job, that we all share, will be to make our community – our schools, our public services and safety, our neighborhoods and yes, our economy, stronger, more resilient, more accessible, and more welcoming to all – especially those skill-sets and contributions have not been understood or recognized before.
Tacoma is a city, and Pierce county is a county, of very different neighborhoods and subcultures, each with its own biases, priorities, opportunities and challenges. Each area has its own identity, its own past and its own future.
In the past we, like other cities, have pitted neighborhood against neighborhood, whether it is the location of (not-always-desirable) social services, schools, police stations or development opportunities. These are almost always losing battles, with each side racing to, or even beyond, the bottom.
We have the opportunity, maybe even the necessity, to re-make our region, our neighborhoods, our priorities and our opportunities more open and accessible to as many voices and sources of energy and passion as possible.
We will survive, in fact we will thrive. But it will always be “we”; all of us working together to make this a place to be proud of.