How many of us in the business community would have ever imagined that wrapping up the first quarter of 2020 would entail adjusting to a new, and hopefully very temporary normal? For me, this new normal has been felt not only on a professional level, but personal level as well. The disruptions we are experiencing first-hand by the Coronavirus has left me able to fully understand some of the historically troubled times my grandparents tried to explain from their own experiences when they were growing up.
Despite the necessary ‘distancing’ mandate by the Governor, these times have united the region more than divided. I am proud to both witness and be reminded of our strength when we work together. It is extraordinary to see partnerships formed amid a crisis. They are formed not for profit, but with the calling to support those in need while deploying the region’s greatest assets.
It may seem cliché, but we are in fact stronger together. Some of the creative partnerships formed during this time have been between the Chambers of Commerce. The Greater Shreveport, African American and the Bossier Chamber worked cohesively to provide a one-stop resource for the region’s businesses. Their collective work in building the website, FlattentheCurveSB, has served as an information hub to many businesses throughout the region.
Speaking of hubs, let’s move the train of thought to our region as a transportation hub. It’s no secret that Northwest Louisiana’s access to multi-modal transportation is one of our greatest assets as business’ day to day operations rely heavily transportation logistics to move their goods and services to market, in addition to the supplies needed to manufacture these goods. Now, apply the local transportation infrastructure access in the region to our national supply chain. Think about the necessities distributed and moved through the region that we take for granted each day. Northwest Louisiana is positioned well to serve in the distribution of those goods and services which keep residents participating in the economy through retail and employment due to the increased demand for transportation jobs.
It is understandable that during this time jobs are a sore topic. According to a news release from the Louisiana Workforce Commission, “The initial unemployment insurance claims for the week ending Mar. 21, 2020 rose to 72,438 from the week ending March 7, 2020 total of 1,698.” At a time when we see unemployment numbers rising, take note of the list of essential worker functions outlined by CISA. Many of the job types defined there are present among our region’s key industries, which can soften the economic disruption for the local area. Essential workers are not only key to standing up the economy presently, but this presence in our local workforce is representative of the important role the region plays in supporting the national economy through the energy, healthcare, IT and manufacturing sectors. That is not a difficult to grasp considering the significant investments the region has made in providing access to workforce training and education opportunities to outfit a talent pipeline within these essential industries.
The healthcare sector in Northwest Louisiana is considered a major economic driver in the region. Our MSA is home to top-rated healthcare centers, teaching and research institutions, and offers a high level of access to services for residents and those within the surrounding areas. Overall, our local healthcare sector employs over 35,000 with an average annual wage of $65,000. All that aside, let us take this opportunity to highlight the innovation in our community amidst the health crisis through LSU Health Shreveport’s newly established Emerging Viral Threat Lab. The willingness and capacity to serve and respond to industry needs are one of the region’s greatest characteristics.
In a time such as this, it is important to lift these positive attributes found within partnerships, our strong transportation and industry workforce to the forefront. Our region has the tools necessary to build on as we work to move past the immediate threat into the recovery phase.
Recovery is a bit premature to discuss in detail, however much is being done on the local, state and federal forefront to aid business owners and citizens. The GBEDF has been in contact daily with leaders and policy makers who are crafting the next phases of recovery. LED, the state economic development office has stood up a virtual helpdesk and hotline to answer businesses questions and to provide resource assistance. As I write this article, breaking news continues as it was just announced that Congress has passed the CARES ACT which spells out many different attempts to assist citizens and businesses who find themselves in uncharted and unsettling waters. There appears to be many versions of loan programs, personal cash, debt forgiveness, interest rate freezes and foreclosure pauses that could and should benefit businesses and families alike. On the ground here locally, please keep in mind that there is a time lag before these programs kick in and can help. Many businesses will qualify and see help but that will take a few weeks so please keep supporting your restaurants and locals with gift certificates and take out orders that provide a cash flow for them. Most have been very appreciative; however, worry is still there. Small business makes up nearly 70% of business in Louisiana so I urge you to keep in mind that we need them as much as they need us. One of the things you can do today is to take our COVID-19 Business Impact Survey which will help us identify and address industry and business’ most critical needs.
We all know this, but just another reminder, be kind and patient during this period. Support your friends and your community. The GBEDF has developed an online resource page where many of the programs and information are posted and will continue to be updated. Please feel free to reach out to our office on Facebook or via email with questions to firstname.lastname@example.org as we continue to navigate this event together. Stay at home and stay healthy as this is the only way we can end this faster.