By Jim Carroll
Who would have thought that we would look back and now consider January 2020 as “…the good old days…”?
Just like all the preceding New Year’s Eves, people freely congregated and celebrated, the ball dropped, domestic and international travel continued unimpeded, and only bank robbers and trick-or-treaters wore masks. Life was predictable, simple, and relatively safe. Ah, the good old days!
Then one day in March of that year came along something so frightening and unexpected it caught the entire world “wrong-footed.” The COVID-19 pandemic completely, remorselessly, and utterly altered humankind’s existence, ravaged lifestyles, populations, and, indeed, the world’s economy. In one year, it irrevocably changed our entire psyche.
In the past year, we have seen the worst and the best of the American spirit. Panic buying, fights in stores over cleaning supplies and food products; massive social unrest and widespread anarchy in major urban areas, the intensity, and duration of which we had never experienced; draconian diktats from elected officials restricting our lives only to then see the same people blithely ignore their own rules, all demonstrated the worst in us. Fortunately, here in Hampton Roads, life went on.
This same year, we witnessed people and communities coming together working to better each other’s lives. New and innovative loan and grant programs were rolled out to help both businesses and people survive. Front-line responders now included grocery-store clerks and delivery drivers who worked tirelessly to ensure we did not go without food. The pharmaceutical industry performed miraculously in developing vaccines to fight this disease. Slowly, a light of hope is shining, albeit dimly, in our tunnel.
The costs have been enormous. Over 27 million cases of infection leading to the deaths of nearly 500,000 fellow Americans. 11 years of employment gains were wiped out in a single year. Some businesses were able to thrive, while others had to close. From March 1, 2020, to August 31, 2020, nearly 98,000 closed. Words like “pivot,” “new normal,” and acronyms like “BOPIS,” “BOPAC,” “PPP,” and “EIDL” entered our lexicon.
We have experienced significant gains as well. Business practices changed at a breakneck pace with contactless transactions and home delivery. Online sales went from 16% of retail sales in 2019 to over 33% in the first quarter of 2020. Ten years’ worth of e-commerce adoption was compressed into three months at the start of 2020. Once severely stretched and strained, supply chains are bouncing back by adopting new technologies, processes, and procedures. In one quarter of the year, retailers saw total transactions dropping by 14%. However, the average ticket size increased by 27%. While less shopping took place, customers were decidedly more purposeful in their store visits. It appeared that stores were offering solutions while the internet was only offering transactions.
Our small business community received over 20,400 PPP Loans totaling over 2 billion dollars. Over 15,300 EID Loans totaling over $702 million were disbursed to help with the recovery. Our local financial institutions adapted, improvised, and overcame the challenges presented to them in developing the infrastructure to handle this unprecedented service level.
In Hampton Roads, the business community’s leadership joined to develop a comprehensive regional “Strategic Framework.” This is designed to guide the region towards the common goals of restoring the region’s economy to pre-COVID levels and ensuring that our businesses and population are ready for the next disaster by adopting practices to make them more resilient. Organizations, Chambers, Universities, and others have worked tirelessly and diligently to bring this to fruition. It is a team and regional undertaking.
On March 30, the Hampton Roads Chamber and the Small Business Development Center are proud to recognize some of the many business owners who refused to surrender to uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Our COVID Business Resiliency Recognition or the “Pivot to the Positive Awards” are to honor those businesses representing all of us who labor to make Hampton Roads the amazing place that it is today. #HamptonRoadsResilient.