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BBA Digest: We Thank You

We Thank You

Now is the time to give thanks to all the men and women deemed essential to carry on in the face of the crisis before us.

They work in grocery stores and pharmacies and warehouses. They are the delivery drivers for Amazon, Instacart and Grubhub. They work for the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and Fedex.

They are the long-haul truckers, as well as those who keep the truckstops operating. They are our police, corrections officers, firefighters and EMTs. Most of all, they our front-line health care workers who are battling these insidious enemy.

From Maine to California, they go to work probably with conflicting feelings of duty and dread. Most are probably glad to still be working, and we all should be glad that they are working, too. Because they are working for us.

So let us give thanks to all those who are in the broadest sense, our “first responders.” We couldn’t keep going without you.

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Corporate America Steps Up

Too often, we excoriate the policies and the actions of big business in this country. I've certainly done it. But I must tell you that I'm impressed at how so many companies are stepping up to do the right thing during this time of need.

Some are paying higher wages or providing bonuses to employees who are vital for dealing with the current pandemic. Campbell Soup is the latest to join the growing list, adding $2 an hour for hourly workers. Other companies worth mentioning: Kroger, Target, Amazon, Walgreens, Walmart and Hormel Foods.

Walmart says it will pay nearly $550 million in employee bonuses, and hire an additional 150,000 employees through the end of May.

Apparel companies are retooling to make masks and other protective garments. Fanatics is producing masks and gowns out of the same jersey fabric that is used to make the uniforms worn by professional baseball players.

Apple is donating 10 million masks to the medical community across the United States and the hardest-hit areas in Europe. Softbank has donated more than a million N-95 masks to New York state.

Ford, G.M. and Tesla are also tapping their supply chains and looking into building ventilators to send to hospitals. (Though President Trump jumped on GM Friday, saying it’s dragging its feet.)

Distilleries and breweries are making hand sanitizer, with Anheuser-Busch InBev, Diageo and Pernod Ricard rejigging their operations to meet shortages. Tito's Handmade Vodka plans will produce 24 tons of sanitizer during the next several weeks, which will be distributed for free.

Estée Lauder committed to donating 10,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to every week to New York state for the coming weeks, while L'Oréal USA is also producing alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Facebook announced a new $100 million program to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The grants will be available for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries.

Facebook is also paying $1,000 bonus to every employee, one of the first big companies to offer workers cash to help them during the coronavirus outbreak.

Google said small businesses with active advertising accounts during the past year will have access to free ad credits -- about $340 million in aggregate.

A consortium including Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft was recently formed to enlist their supercomputers in making calculations and modeling scenarios for the spread of the disease.

Airbnb launched a global initiative to provide health care professionals, relief workers and first responders free or subsidized housing. Serta Simmons Bedding is donating 10,000 mattresses to New York City hospitals and medical facilities fighting the coronavirus.

Hertz is offering free vehicle rentals through April 30 for health care workers. Workers can book as little as a week or up to a month with the company at no cost to them.

In the Aftermath

Economic developers should be thinking long and hard about what our world will look like post coronavirus.

Prior to the pandemic, I was speaking to ED groups about the Fourth Industrial Revolution -- characterized by automation and artificial intelligence -- and how it is changing how we live and work.

I believe the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn will only accelerate those changes -- with more automation and more AI. The truth is that robots, while needing periodic maintenance and programming, cannot get sick.

For many employers, this health and economic crisis will reveal that people, while viewed by many enlightened managers as a company's most valuable resource, are nonetheless vulnerable and even expendable.

Jobs most likely to be affected are those in the food service, manufacturing and transportation/warehousing sectors, with research showing roughly 36 million jobs have a “high” susceptibility to automation.

When the crisis passes, I have to believe that things will never be quite the same. Widespread virtual work will advance new business models and products and services. Companies, entire industries and work itself will be transformed.

Economic developers will need to recognize and adapt if they are to serve their communities to the utmost.

Interested in a webinar or teleconference on this? We can do that.

Leadership Matters

The best business leaders (I would suggest the same is true for economic developers) are those who are focused on solutions -- for existing and future problems.

In 2015, Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, gave a TED talk in which he warned that the greatest risk of global catastrophe was “not missiles, but microbes” — not nuclear war, but a virus.

“If anything kills more than 10 million people in the next decade it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus,” he warned.

What Gates said then has been verified now by leading scientists. (Incredibly, many people continue to reject that possibility. But that's another story for another time.

Now that the pandemic is here, CEOs are taking action to protect their people.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, known for his outspokenness on social and political issues, is calling on CEOs to take a 90 day "no layoff pledge" to help their employees through this crisis. It is part of an eight-point plan he tweeted to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and end the coronavirus crisis.

Salesforce has taken steps to help mitigate the spread of the virus, including donating medical masks to local hospitals, asking all employees to work from home, and offering its technology free to healthcare teams.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he will pay all hourly employees the same amount they would have made if the season had continued.

“I’m blessed…It’s not going to cost me as much as it will cost those hourly employees. It was just the right thing to do,” Cuban said.

Cuban says we should be listening to epidemiologists, not billionaires, when it comes to deciding when to return to work.

"Ignore anything someone like me might say. Lives are at stake," Cuban told Bloomberg.

Only Remembered

How economic development organizations respond to this health and economic crisis may very well define their brands for a very long time. What they did or did not do will be remembered.

Many small businesses are facing hardship, even permanent closure. And while the federal government is responding, it is also slow and time is of the essence. Many communities have revolving loan funds for small businesses.

If you have an RLF, now is the time to re-purpose it in quick response to this crisis. If you don't have an RLF, now is the time to establish one. If you need advice, let's talk.

Now is not the time for an EDO to shirk its responsibilities with a bunker mentality, but rather to proactively reach out to existing employers and residents to provide them with information and resources they can use.

This goes to the very heart of what economic development is about -- impacting lives.

The Call

A friend telephoned me the other day. It's a call that I'll remember for a long time.

He began by saying this, "Dean, you were one of the last people that I came into contact with ..."

Then he paused, and suddenly I was awash with a feeling of dread. Ok, here it comes. He's going to tell me that he's tested positive for COVID-19 and that I need to get tested too.

I'm just waiting for the hammer to fall. But it didn't. My friend was just reaching out to say hello, even if he did scare the you-know-what out of me.

We had a great conversation and decided to have a virtual beer together via Zoom. He showed me some guitar licks he was working on. I showed him a guitar pickup that I just bought.

Now is a good time to check in on friends, family and business associates, most of whom are probably home and a bit stir-crazy like me.

Non-Pandemic Stories We're Reading

Big Cats, Cults and Murder: Inside the Making of Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’

Rolling Stone

Churchill's First Year as Prime Minister is Electric in "The Splendid and the Vile" NPR

Top 10 virtual tours: see the world without leaving home TechRadar

Bob Dylan’s First Original Song in Years Is a 17-Minute Epic About JFK’s Assassination Slate

A Natural Classroom, Run by Wolves The New York Times

Every Episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ Ranked The Ringer