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Decker: Business recovery continues, but reasons for optimism

Unless you lived under a rock in 2020, you know that the year was a challenge for the business community unlike any year in most of our lifetimes.

From shutdown orders to stay at home orders, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we live life on a daily basis.

That has certainly had an impact on how we do business.

In an attempt to gain a broader perspective on those impacts locally — and how the county will emerge from this season — we reached out to Jim Decker, President/CEO of the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry.

“2020 was an unprecedented year without question,” he said. “The hardships imposed on businesses globally will likely take years to overcome and unfortunately many businesses have already been lost as a result of mandated closures, restrictions on operational capacity and in some cases direct impact of the COVID-19 virus on business owners.”

He was clear — all county businesses were impacted and the “road to recovery will not be a short nor easy one.”

He also isn’t looking for government to be the solution.

“I do not believe it to be prudent to expect or rely on government at any level to replace what has been lost by our local business. Government will continue to play a vital role in the overall economic recovery process,” he said. “Actions such as waiver of fees for state licensing are crucial to small business recovery and should be considered for all such fees required for businesses to operate.”

One area where government should be involved? Broadband expansion.

“The issues of connectivity which surfaced as the Warren County School District developed virtual instructional capacity emphasizes this lack of adequate access in a majority of the County,” he said.

Reports indicate that the “work-from-home” model made necessary by the pandemic will continue well into the future as companies have realized the model works effectively in terms of productivity and provides significant opportunity for cost savings through elimination of brick-and-mortar facilities and costs. A lack of broadband capacity in any area of our county eliminates this work model for our residents and takes us off the relocation map for individuals seeking communities of our size and lifestyles who have the ability to ‘work from anywhere.'”

While it’s clear that businesses will still be impacted in the new year, there is a light at the end of the tunnel as vaccine efforts ramp up in earnest.

“Based upon the current projection of vaccine delivery and inoculation regimen, and with confidence that the vaccine will in fact be effective, it seems prudent to assume that business activities will continue to be impacted at some level through mid-year,” Decker said.

That’s further complicated by the closure of the Irvine Distribution Center by April which will increase the county’s unemployed total by about 300.

“Thus, I would speculate that our “return to normal” here in Warren County may begin in the July timeframe but not be complete until at least Thanksgiving,” he said.

He encouraged businesses to take several key steps to come out of this period — staying in touch with assistance programs at the various levels of government, using the time to enhance online capabilities, being willing to ask for help and consider joining the WCCBI, which he said can “help you stay informed, stay connected to local events and resources (and) get your name and your goods and services to current and new customers.”

But Decker said the community has a “major role” to play to help “local businesses get back on their feet.”

“Buy Local” might be a cliche but it’s true now more than ever.

“Buy Local needs to be a priority 12 months a year, every year, not just one Saturday in December! This is not something that requires a dramatic shift in our lives, simply asking ourselves if buying a given item might be possible from a local store rather than ordering it on-line,” Decker said. “Warren County businesses have been and continue to be significantly and negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The owners of these businesses have proven their commitment to their business and their community. Warren County has also stepped up in support of these businesses, a tradition that simply needs to continue.”

Part of the needed community response is also learning the lessons that the pandemic will ultimately teach us.

“As devastating as this pandemic has been, we all have learned something from it. New operating procedures will be in place for employees throughout the County, supply chains have been reconstructed, businesses found ways to get their goods and services delivered in unique ways,” Decker said. “Customers have learned unique ways to shop, therefore teaching all industries that the changing ways of technology advancements are no longer something that can be ignored just because we’re a small town.”

A significant part of that lesson is what we accept as normal.

“This past year has reminded us of the value of what we had and that we cannot take anything for granted. No longer will we take for granted the freedom of dining out with our loved ones, frequenting the entertainment industry for a ‘night out’ whenever we wanted, and gathering in large groups for annual traditions and religious beliefs,” he said.

“Warren County did not see a pandemic like this coming, none of us had time to prepare for the worst but living through it together has made us hopeful for the coming year.”

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