Guest Editorial: Ultimate Crunch Time

By Recker McDowell —

The U.S. economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April. The unemployment rate is 14.7 percent and could hit 20 percent or higher due to the impacts of COVID-19.

Economies and businesses are gradually opening (including in Arizona). But it is going to take time for businesses to rehire workers and ramp back up operations. Consumers will also have to figure out their spending and behaviors (including travel and what kind of events and venue they may frequent or avoid).

We are still very much in unchartered waters heading into the summer when the 2020 campaign season will start to get even more intense.

As we all know COVID-19 is an unprecedented threat to public health, jobs, and the economy. It is the Spanish Flu and Great Depression combined potentially.

We need unprecedented, unorthodox, and innovative leadership to deal the pandemic as well as the job losses and fears that COVID-19 has brought. The 20.5 million who lost jobs just in April pretty much amounts to the entire populations of Arizona and Illinois.

There is a definitely the need for FDR (‘Nothing to fear but fear itself) assurances. Fear has gripped much of the media coverage and politics around the Coronavirus. We need leadership at all levels that rises above the fear and worry as well as the partisan rancor on social media.

We need that leadership all the way day down to the local level. We need business and community leaders to stress hope over fear.

Our communities and economy also need vision and creativity to how jobs, small businesses, and key industries such as tourism will come out the other side of the pandemic. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 7.7 million job losses nationally in leisure and hospitality, 2.1 million in retail and 1.4 million in health care. Those losses are equivalent to the respective metropolitan populations of Dallas-Fort Worth, Kansas City and Memphis.

We need leadership at the political, private sector and community levels that goes beyond dire public health warnings of COVID-19 cases and broad calls to reopen the economy. We need solutions and ideas short and long-term to create and save jobs, rejuvenate shopping centers, restaurant areas and other properties impacted by COVID-19.

Numerous companies are already or are looking at making some of their temporary layoffs permanent.

Nordstrom is permanently closing its store at Chandler Fashion Center. There are already numerous restaurants that are also not reopening. All that means lost jobs, lost tax revenue, and adversely impacted real estate.

Cities and states should be looking at common sense adjustments to regulations and licensing. They should be thinking outside the box in terms of land use and zoning.

They should be fast tracking permits and plans that create and save jobs. This is a challenge and requires city staff, state regulators, economic developers, and elected officials to up their game.

We also need to see the private sector to step forward. We know many businesses; many entrepreneurs and creatives are in survival mode. We know financing could be very tough after the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program funds are utilized.

But our communities and economy need job creators and innovators to do just that. This where innovators and entrepreneurs can rise to the occasion and find opportunities amidst this most challenging time.

This is the ultimate crunch time for the economy and our communities.

We need vision and action.