Editor's Note: The Chief presented Paul Vogel's part one of this two part guest column in the Aug. 13 edition. The following is part two.
The business picture is a mess.
People aren’t returning to work for myriad reasons. But we need to take “fear of getting sick” completely off that list. If people are taking the pandemic pause to re-think personal or work priorities, jobs and career paths – more power to them. But businesses are limping along with partial staffing.
The only thing worse than a restaurant being completely shut down is one that can only be partially or inconsistently open – and not know when that might be since workers may or may not show up either for interviews or work itself. And you know it’s not just restaurants.
If you’re concerned about getting sick, get vaccinated or at least wear a mask. Then go to work. If your employees need reassurance, help them get vaccines and require masks, for everybody. Start taking that “fear” off the list. Some local businesses are doing just that, adapting to meet the both the virus and the worker shortage head on. They’re re-looking at work conditions, conventional views on hours, shifts, and working from home. But manufacturers don’t have work from home luxury. Some here locally, like Pacific Stainless, are acting on their care for worker safety – and fear - by partnering with public health and others to bring vaccination events to their shop floor. You can do that too.
In order for an economy to be healthy it needs to have balance – demand and supply/supply and demand. As with worker behaviors, consumer patterns and behaviors have changed. Our local retailers can’t adjust to that if there’s no one to work. Potential customers find alternatives if businesses are erratically open.
Fear of getting sick and inability to find care for children while you work – those are problems that need to be addressed.
Oxford Economics Chief U.S. Financial Economist Kathy Bostjancic recently observed, "The highly contagious Delta variant casts a shadow on the labor market recovery in the coming months, threatening to slow the return of workers still on the sideline due to childcare issues or health concerns."
Vaccines are free and available. With CARES and ARPA funding, programs are underway to try to unravel the childcare puzzle. Employers that want to attract and retain workers, maybe look at childcare as not only a benefit, but an essential part of your future business model.
Like employee/worker behavior, consumer behavior is changing – has changed – due to the pandemic. Rebuilding our economy and adapting to that change, Keep it Local Columbia County has never been more important. Keep it Local is currently surveying consumers – your customers (or the people who should be) - to find out what they want, why they shop local or, more important, if they don’t then why not. Get a hold of Keep it Local to find out what you don’t know you don’t know. These insights will be shared with anyone who wants them.
Here are some other things to think about and do something about:
Workers: There’s a worker shortage. There hasn’t been a better time for you to find or change jobs in decades. If you can’t find a job you like in this market, the pandemic and economy are not to blame. It’s time for a new approach in order to rejoin the economy.
If you want to make a change, learn something different. Explore mechatronix, digital literacy, apprenticeship programs, makers spaces and more at the new PCC Training Center. And no one is better positioned, or able, to adapt to the changing work environment than OMIC, blazing trails in both advanced and additive manufacturing. Right here.
Business owners: We need to help change the way people are thinking about work – from both sides of the relationship. Maybe that’s improving wages, benefits, or simply the conditions or considerations in our workplace. We need people to come back to, or want to go to, work for us. On September 15, Northwest Oregon Works, our workforce partner will have another job fair. If you need people, sign up and show up for that. And LISTEN to why people are changing work, or reluctant to go back to work. Adjust your own outlook toward employee retention – it may be the most important “marketing” you’ve done in a decade.
If you haven’t been doing marketing – hope that’s working for you but maybe it’s time for a rethink on your approach. Everything’s changed. Employees AND consumers have changed their expectations of you. Perhaps it’s a good time to refresh on how you run your entire business – and the passion that got you into your business in the first place.
Take a class. Attend a seminar. Or just watch their videos online. Everything’s changed. Some of your competitors get that. You’d better catch up to get ahead. PCC business classes are starting up again in the fall, and we’ve got additional help on the way.
We’ll be bringing a new Small Business Resource Center to Columbia County soon. We’ve never had one here. Some of the COVID funding will help make it happen. COVID certainly underscored the need. Business advising will be free, which kind of removes any excuse to for not tapping into it, yeah? If you don’t take advantage, the economy and pandemic are not to blame.
New tools, new opportunity, new information and knowledge, even new vaccines are coming to Columbia County. We simply need to work together to help eliminate the business uncertainty of potential new masks requirements and other on again/off again rules designed to protect us. And who or what to protect ourselves from.
If we don’t help stabilize things, seize opportunities, and help ourselves and our communities, the economy and the pandemic are not to blame.
Paul Vogel is the executive director of the Columbia County Economic Team. He may be reached at 503-410-1061.