The Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County (EDASC) began the year of 2020 focused on its mission of strengthening local businesses and expanding our economy. EDASC was set to leverage Skagit’s great geographic and business-friendly location to attract industry and entrepreneurs to our beautiful area. While economic planning is a fine art, no financial crystal ball anticipated a sudden and global blow to businesses. Of course, COVID-19 changed everything within a matter of weeks.
The Skagit economy is facing the chaos and alarm that seems to be everywhere. But who has a better finger on the local pulse than EDASC, even in the middle of COVID-19? So – in what is our new normal – EDASC CEO John Sternlicht and Communications Manager Aaron Weinberg joined me for a conversation through video-conferencing.
Times are bad, without a doubt. But Skagit has always been resilient. Part of that is the nature of our people. Aaron also sees resilience in Skagit’s diverse economy. “When there is diverse business and industry, there is more resiliency and a greater ability to recover.” He added, “We have a range of prosperous industries including manufacturing, health care, maritime, informational technology, construction, retail, tourism and agriculture. This diversity will help us as we move forward.” In the meantime, businesses will need some help and solid advice.
EDASC and COVID-19 Resources
John and Aaron are frank about our current financial predicament. Workers and businesses have both been hit and hit hard. So, EDASC is doing what they can to give businesses access to the relief that is available. John described how opportunities like the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) have complex application processes that can be daunting. “We make the application process understandable, especially to smaller businesses with limited resources. We do the research and extra support. We don’t just send out links.” You can contact EDASC by checking out its website at https://www.skagit.org/.
Going the extra mile is obvious when viewing EDASC’s COVID-19 Resource Guide at https://www.skagit.org/covid-19-resources-for-businesses-employees. Some of these resources will be key to local businesses and their workers. For others, the assistance may not be enough. Sadly, some businesses will not make it through the pandemic. John noted other businesses “were in a position to able to pivot to manufacturing PPE. Also, local distilleries switched to making sanitizers.” There is always innovation during times of upheaval. Opportunities will appear for entrepreneurs despite the tough times ahead. Aaron describes that to support businesses, EDASC “is constantly getting crucial information out to businesses, with our website and newsletter being up to the minute.” In a time of disruption, having EDASC as a trusted information source to our business community is critical.
Skagitonians are waiting for the day that businesses re-open and jobs are restored. We long for a sense of normalcy by heading out to a few shops or sitting down to a good dinner at a restaurant. But to keep ourselves, neighbors and the most vulnerable members of our community safe, businesses need to plan now for the day that reopening arrives. Planning includes how to resume operations while maximizing the safety of customers and employees. This means assuring at least 6 feet of distance, face coverings for staff to wear for as long as it is recommended, providing places for handwashing or hand sanitizing for both employees and customers, and ensuring no one comes to work sick. John underscored the need for wearing face coverings. “When we wear a mask, it’s not so much for protecting ourselves but protecting others. It’s a main way to stop the spread of COVID.”
Businesses need to create an environment in which both workers and customers take necessary precautions. Some businesses will struggle if their facilities make it difficult to create 6 feet of space between people. On the other hand, some organizations can get work done through telecommuting, and may continue this effective physical distancing practice. Fortunately, EDASC is offering guidance on re-opening. Small Business COVID-19 Prevention Best Practices for Businessesoffers information and further resources.
Another resource is Skagit County Public Health. In this time of COVID-19, Public Health is focused on helping businesses be successful in re-opening. The department provides guidance and support so workers and customers can be safe, and re-opening successful. Everyone has a stake in this response – owners, workers and customers. If all of us strive to take care of each other, transmission can be minimized and we can advance through the phases of the Governor’s Safe Start Washington. If we fall into reckless habits, COVID-19 can take hold again. This would be tragic to those who suffer infection and greatly undermine our economy. Check Public Health’s coronavirus webpage for business guidance as well as a vast range of information and resources regarding COVID-19: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HealthDiseases/coronavirus.htm.
EDASC will be a leader in the Skagit County Economic Recovery Strategic Plan, collaborating with a wide range of stakeholders. John notes, “Recovery is not yet in its early stages. It will require multistep planning with multiple phases. Recovery needs to be strategic – very well planned and thought out. This won’t be months – it will be years in the making in order to be successful.” The length of time should not be a negative. It shows we are in a marathon, not a sprint, but with the goal of recovery at the finish regardless.
The COVID-19 pandemic will come to a close after the historically mammoth scale of producing worldwide levels of immunization. This effort will be an economic driver in itself. But what will happen in Skagit then?
John has “hope that we will learn that political boundaries are meaningless to a virus or climate change. There is no separate city, county or country when it comes to COVID-19 or our impact on the planet. And addressing both are part of a job-creating economy.”
As Aaron described above, the ranging diversity of our economy provides Skagit with the resiliency necessary to recovery. This diversity gives us the foundation to bounce back in the future.
Things are dire for us – and it’s not right to be cheerily optimistic when so many are suffering. But Skagit is fortunate to have leaders who cautiously point out that, at the end of the tunnel, there is light.