Brad Williamson

The current COVID-19 pandemic will leave a lasting impact on the nation and throughout state and local communities.  Those who are forward looking can begin to anticipate the structural changes required to not only survive but to reemerge ready to execute business within the new paradigm.

This Black Swan event will compel a reevaluation of how many industries operate, forcing new thinking, and undoubtedly ushering in new ways of doing business for many.  It could eliminate some industries altogether, and accelerate the rapid transition of others to more distributed, less manpower intensive operations.

At a national level, we must reevaluate critical supply chains, first by having a sober assessment of the critical products and processes we previously sacrificed on the altar of efficiency to determine which are truly critical for national security in the largest possible sense.  Then, we must apply the proper resources to secure these materials and supply chains for the future.  This includes the crucial elemental materials and niche industries which were previously not linked to national security.  

Virginia, and specifically Hampton Roads, is blessed with a combination of four factors that have buoyed it during previous economic downturns and that will again serve it well in rebounding from the current crisis:
-Large and stable Government and Military facilities that will continue to employ thousands in the area with reliable incomes, and in turn provide jobs for many local community members who provide them support.
-Diverse defense contractors that will continue to receive contracts to support military construction, platforms, support, and maintenance requirements.
​-A significant number of military and government retirees whose pensions will continue to flow post COVID-19; a significant factor in spurring a rebound in retail spending.
-The Port of Virginia and its geographic location as the entry/exit point for much of the nation's traded goods.

This should not, however, allow local leaders to become complacent that a strong economic rebound is a given.  There are several factors that will work against the area as well:
-Many areas such as the Historic Triangle (Jamestown, Williamsburg, Yorktown) and Virginia Beach are largely dependent on travel and tourism dollars.  The same is true for conference centers in Hampton, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach.  I believe we can help mitigate this impact by coalescing behind the launch of the "Visit THE 757" website when conditions warrant it later this year; more on that in a future post.
-Many small businesses operating in Hampton Roads, specifically those in Service Industries like restaurants and other retail shops, may close permanently or be slow to reopen despite federal and state actions to support them.
-Organizations and businesses that by nature aggregate people as a matter of course may face total upheaval.  Some will face nationwide or global restructuring or replacement.  This could include dramatic changes to how schools, universities, theaters, sporting venues, public transportation, air travel, the cruise industry, medical facilities, and nursing care centers operate.  It is hard to imagine any of these going back to "business as usual" when the threat of future outbreaks of new origin are possible.  As a point of reference, the world has witnessed SARS, MERS, H1N1, Ebola, and now COVID-19 all in the past 18 years, Mandated government changes to regulations impacting these organizations and businesses will undoubtedly be shaped by the results of those executed in response to today's pandemic.   

In order to move forward, local government leaders, business leaders, Chambers of Commerce, trade organizations, union leaders, and education leaders at all levels, should begin meeting virtually to discuss how to re-imagine the economy in a post-COVID-19 environment. Larger businesses should be fully engaged, understanding that their own vitality is at stake in an environment in which Small Businesses are in jeopardy. 

Many will falsely hope for a return to an economy mirroring that which existed previously.  Instead, critical and thoughtful thinking on how the economy will reemerge after the current crisis has ended needs to start as soon as possible.  By acting now, leaders can leverage some of the incredible efforts that have been made in recent weeks to think through how technology (such as virtual meetings, distant learning, and direct delivery though web-based ordering) can be modified, accelerated, and reapplied to help meet the future challenge. 

Communities that do not engage forcefully now to engineer the specific change they want, will be left to wade through the change they are given.  Now is the time to come together as one Hampton Roads and build the Post-COVID-19 economy.  This is serious work that needs to begin now to help ensure the safety and health of future generations.  The clock is ticking...let's get started.
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Douglas L. Smith Doug Smith
Brad - the is a very insightful piece. Your comments about how we must look forward to a new normal are on the mark. You said "In order to move forward, local government leaders, business leaders, Chambers of Commerce, trade organizations, union leaders, and education leaders at all levels, should begin meeting virtually to discuss how to re-imagine the economy in a post-COVID-19 environment. Larger businesses should be fully engaged, understanding that their own vitality is at stake in an environment in which Small Businesses are in jeopardy. " Let me save the look ahead for another post.  For now I want to tell you what we are doing in the moment to help our businesses survive.

Please know the lead business organizations in the region started meeting virtually on a regular basis as soon as this crisis began to unfold. We are fortunate that the Hampton Roads Chamber, The Va Peninsula Chamber, Reinvent Hampton Roads, The Hampton Roads Workforce Alliance, the Greater Peninsula Workforce Group and my organization the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance have been collaborating effectively for the past several years. We now talk every other day and coordinate our activities, working hard not to duplicate efforts. Two things were evident when this crisis began - the information we had about how COVID-19 is impacting our regional businesses was anecdotal not data based, and business leaders were overwhelmed by the information coming at them. So we generated a 757 COVID 19 Business Survey and we created this forum - a place where people can ask and answer questions.

We published the results of that initial survey last night. The lead business organizations have used the findings and insights from this survey to design and accelerate important initiatives to help boost 757 COVID-19 relief and recovery efforts. These initiatives include, but are not limited to:
  1. Widely Share the Findings of this Benchmark Survey: The lead business organizations are now disseminating the survey findings across the region’s business community. This information will help businesses understand their own COVID-19 actions to date relative to other companies.

  2. Advance the Chambers’ COVID-19 Information Centers: As the COVID-19 crisis continues to evolve, the lead business organizations are pointing to the Hampton Roads Chamber COVID- 19 Business Resource Guide and the Virginia Peninsula Chamber as excellent information repositories and inventories of helpful links.

  3. Host a Series of Informational Conference Calls with Key Leaders: The lead business organizations are now hosting a series of conference calls with frontline officials and policy makers to provide timely and accurate COVID-19 information for business leaders.

  4. Launch the 757 COVID-19 Business Recovery Forum – : Working together under the Alliance’s leadership, the lead business organizations launched the new 757 COVID-19 Business Recovery Forum, an online virtual forum for leaders of the Hampton Roads business community to connect and share insights. The Forum will provide access to regional experts on the CARES Act, and invited experts will post content on the site and answer questions live for a specified time each week. This site will also host links to official surveys, results dashboards from completed surveys, and become the place for regional leaders to engage with their peers on a variety of topics related to the region’s recovery.

  5. Package and Share Legislative Concerns and Government Roadblocks: Survey respondents listed numerous government measures they would like to see enacted, as well as bureaucratic barriers and roadblocks they want addressed. The lead business organizations have inventoried, packaged, and are now sharing this information with the region’s local, state, and national elected officials to inform legislative recovery efforts.

  6. Conduct Wave 2 of the 757 COVID-19 Business Leader Survey: Many respondents expressed a desire to participate in future rounds of this survey in order to track COVID-19’s impact and measure future recovery efforts over time. Working together, the lead business organizations are now planning Wave 2 of the 757 COVID-19 Business Leaders Survey around mid-April.

  7. Maximize the impact of the lead business organizations’ collaborative work: The
    leading business organizations that sponsored this survey will continue their frequent weekly virtual meetings (3X per week) to more closely coordinate current and future business support initiatives that accelerate 757 relief and recovery. The latest example of collaboration is Old Dominion University Strome College of Business researchers volunteering to mine the 757 COVID-19 Business Leader Survey dataset to model economic impact and identify additional survey insights that can help support the entire 757 business community.

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Brad Williamson
Doug -- thanks for the thoughtful reply, and more importantly for the great work you and others are doing to attack the challenges and issues we face.  I look forward to being a part of any actions/solutions that are developed to help lead Hampton Roads through this crisis.  As you mention, making evidence-based decisions based on the available data will be one of the keys to leading us forward.  To highlight your efforts, perhaps a more open forum, along the lines of the call you mention in number 3 above, would allow for greater insight into the issues facing a broader set of stakeholders.

Again, great work at a critical point in time!  Standing by to assist - Brad
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