Whew, I made it. 2021 at long last. What did 2020 teach me that I can apply in 2021? Where to start? The first thing I learned was that things can and do change very quickly. What began as a bright and prosperous year for the first two months suddenly turned grim by the second week of March. The conferences I was planning on attending were canceled or postponed. I learned to be afraid of going to the grocery store or having lunch with friends. At first, it was “not here” but “there” that had been the issue as New York buckled under this mysterious virus that was spreading quickly through the population.
Sitting in Midwest small-town America (Holland, MI), I felt concerned but somewhat smug as though I had dodged a bullet. Then Becky, my daughter, started describing the impact the virus was having on the hospital in which she worked where doctors and nurses were becoming infected, growing ill, and, in a few cases dying. Yet, that was on the “other side of the State” so while it was concerning, it didn’t feel threatening.
Like many businesses, we went to remote work, which we were mostly already as part of the 1099 Economy referred to in the first episode of the Whittaker Report Podcast. With travel suspended and Work From Home (WFH) becoming the norm for those who could, my colleagues and I continued to fulfill our commitments to our clients but with less and less new work coming in. To me, it started to feel like 2007-2008 when the recession hit and all of our work stopped within days. Night sweats returned as I worried about payroll and meeting my other financial commitments.
About this time, I started participating in a bi-weekly survey with local economic development organizations to measure the impact that the virus was having on business. It was alarming to see the toll taken on the travel and hospitality industry with 10% failing each month and many with only a month or less of cash on hand. The first Federal Stimulus felt like “too little, too late” for small businesses. Larger companies weather the storm with access to capital that small firms lacked.
I didn’t qualify for payroll protection loans (PPP) that many firms used so I dipped into reserves and borrowed against our line of credit to meet payroll and other obligations, much as I had done in 2007-2008 but I remembered that it took me six years to repay that debt. About this time, Lakeshore Advantage announced a state-funded grant program for small businesses. I applied and received a small grant after a two-month review process. It was sufficient to avoid terminating any of my part-time staff for another month. New work trickled in and was becoming more stable.
Amid the business issues, my physician sister-in-law, working in North Carolina contracted COVID-19 and later my spouse developed symptoms… now it was on my doorstep. It was heartbreaking to feel and see its impact and the toll it took. By sequestering in a separate room, wearing facemasks in the house, washing my hands frequently, I avoided experiencing any serious symptoms beyond nausea.
By this time, the professional conferences had all gone virtual. I was allowed to present at the virtual IEDC Annual Conference. The presentation had to be recorded in advance and submitted on the conference platform that included a Zoom Q&A.
I would be remiss not to mention the Quarter Century community of senior (old), economic development friends and colleagues, bi-weekly Zoom meeting hosted by Rick Weddle. This life-line amid all the chaos provides me with a sense of connection and a chance to laugh, reminisce, and marvel at the continued engagement and vitality of my economic development colleagues.
Fast-forwarding towards the end of 2020. My adult daughter, who lives in Oregon, develops COVID-19 and tests positive. After a difficult week, she partially recovers and now only experiences the fatigue that is common to the virus. After many delays, a major project is approved, and our team once again has work to do for which I am especially grateful.
All of which brings me today. What did 2020 teach me? I learned that life is very uncertain at times and I need to be prepared to adapt to the situation and to be resilient, look for new ways to do things and to innovate and adjust to the new circumstances.