By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
At many levels we are still at the impact level of COVID-19.
We as individuals, as parents, teachers, workers, employers and many more still find ourselves responding in real time to the variations of impact from the pandemic.
From child care to health care, from public schools to local economies, from travel to international trade, from supply chains to what currency we use, nothing is as it was.
We have become accustomed to working from home, shopping from home, mobile banking and a dozen other routine activities that would baffle our grandparents.
Any areas of weakness or vulnerability have been pushed to the point of fracture if not collapse.
The number of citizens of Washington who are “food insecure” has doubled, businesses large and small, new and long established are closing their doors forever.
City centers – even downtown Seattle – have become ghost towns. Malls are deserted. So-called “anchor stores” like Penney’s, Sears, even Nordstrom are in huge trouble.
And smaller towns, especially those college towns, who flourish on tourist or student business, are flailing like never before.
At WSU for example, on-campus housing has been severely restricted at 15% capacity (all rooms single-occupancy) and all football games canceled, the face of Pullman has completely changed.
My wife and I were in Bellingham recently, and that city, almost as student dependent as Pullman, had vast empty areas – though some businesses, those who had some work-around strategies – were packed. Western Washington University students make up 17% of the city’s 90,000 population. And they pump up the economy when they are there, and the economy drops like a deflated balloon when they leave.
In Bellingham, as in other cities, the economic impacts hit every area from grocery stores to neighborhood rentals to tuition and the local, if not statewide tax basis.
Besides finances, the “college experience” has been reconfigured, possibly forever. Will many students want to endure years of crushing student debt for the “college experience”?
Is online higher education the new expectation? Do students prefer it? Can schools survive if they do?
For the academic year beginning in September of 2020, approximately 60% to 70% of WSU students have returned to Pullman. That number veers perilously close to half.
For a town like Pullman, with essentially a one-industry economy, continuing contractions can only spell disaster.
Other towns, like Ellensburg, are in even more trouble. In a normal year, Central students, faculty, and staff make up about three-quarters of Ellensburg’s 21,000 population
And it is not just businesses that have contracted. So far in 2020 Ellensburg has seen only a 6% dip in sales tax revenue this year, but they expect the drop to hit double digits by the end of year.
Statewide, the situation is not that different. Before COVID-19, about one in 10 jobs in Washington state was hospitality-based; that’s about 300,000 people.
Food and drink venues, besides taking a hit financially, have instituted new policies – some require mandatory masks, temperature checks and a customer log for possible contact tracing.
The Washington Hospitality Association (representing the restaurant industry) project historic losses and closures, they expect that 35% of full-service restaurants will go out of business in the upcoming year.
On a related note, Alaska Airlines bookings have improved but not by much; from a drop earlier this year of 95% to a more sustained drop of only 75%. This translates to about a $4 million dollars loss each day.
The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) is working with Congress to pass the Save Our Stages Act, bipartisan legislation to provide relief to indie venues, promoters and festivals. NIVA estimated that if the shutdown lasts six months or longer without federal assistance, 90% of its members would close permanently.
From local food and drink providers to international airlines, the impacts keep accumulating.
As with any challenge, some of us will adapt, some will not and some will prevail, but no matter what happens, or how any of us respond, the landscape will look nothing like it did just a year, or even a few months ago.
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;
an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
– Winston Churchill
Not your father’s economy
2020 has not brought us one challenge, it has brought us a whole constellation of challenges, where standard rules and expectations do not apply. Every aspect of life, public and private, global and local, economic and relational is in upheaval.
We have a tsunami level convergence and intersection of demographic, economic, and technological developments that impact us all no matter what our age, income or vocation.
Our attachment to the past, or even more so, our nostalgic longing for a mythical idealized identity will not equip or prepare us for an elusive, unpredictable future.
Retail, banking, even grocery shopping is nothing like it was a year ago, let alone a generation ago.
You can even register to vote on your phone, through apps like Facebook and Snapchat – over 400,000 users have registered via the latter, which has also released a public service announcement featuring former president Barrack Obama.
Challenges and opportunities are behind every headline, every news story, even every business merger, acquisition or bankruptcy.
One of the few things that we know for certain is that the direction and pace of our economy will not be changing any time visible on our horizon.
Traditional business models, or even strategies are irrelevant, if not preposterous.
Cyber-currencies, Blockchain and AI will dominate the economy, if not our personal lives.
Facial recognition, including health screening, have become basic elements of the public experience.
The economy of 2020 -and beyond – has more moving parts than most of us could even imagine. The rate of change will only increase.
Many of those entering the workforce, or even those who have been here a while, rarely if ever use cash, use a landline or have ever watched broadcast television. The world they inhabit is a different world from the one many of us have known. That world is not coming back.
The age, race and cultural balance is shifting. The currents of the economy are powerful and will overwhelm some and give others, those flexible enough to ride them, the opportunity of a lifetime.