It’s been over two months since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. and nearly two full weeks since Governors in Oregon and Washington ordered people to stay at home. Restaurants have closed or reduced services. Amusement parks and theaters are closed and leisure activities have been cancelled. Schools and state and national parks are closed. Even many retailers not specifically ordered to close under executive order are shutting down, unable to afford keeping doors open with the decline in business activity.
We have all been negatively affected in one way or another from this crisis. If there’s anything good to come of this pandemic, it’s in the revelation of just how connected we are to one another.
On a personal level, the importance of interconnectivity has been made painfully obvious as social isolation takes its toll on families and friends and we begin to miss even the most causal interactions with co-workers and community members. Our interdependence is becoming more clear every day on an economic level as well. Businesses are reliant on suppliers, distributors, and customers, all of which have been disrupted in one way or another because of the pandemic. Supply chains for products and commodities are out of sorts as demand has dropped for some goods and exceeded supply for others. Skyrocketing unemployment rates mean fewer customers for local businesses as people prepare for an uncertain future, stay home and tighten budgets. Urban areas hard-hit with the disease are grappling with the reality that some small businesses might not make it through the loss of economic activity, however temporary.
While the current crisis is unprecedented, the natural trickling down of negative consequences when industries struggle is not uncommon. Our Pacific Northwest timber communities have lived with this ripple effect over the past several decades. When people are unemployed (or underemployed), they can’t frequent the local coffee shops, restaurants and movie theaters or participate in travel or other recreational activities that so many other businesses are built around. Less economic activity means repair shops, supply stores, fuel distributors, and trucking companies also suffer. This loss of business infrastructure is not easily or quickly recreated when economies and industries rebound. These losses affect overall community vitality and livability, which hurts those left behind when the dust settles.
Community vitality is also dependent on a resilient and well-supported public sector. First responders and public health providers have been asked to invest an enormous amount of time and energy (not to mention putting their own physical and emotional health on the line) to save lives and reduce the spread of the disease. Schools, currently shuttered, will face the daunting task of helping our young people make up for lost time so they are prepared to enter the next stage of their lives once this crisis passes. The business community depends on both of these sectors to keep us safe and ensure our future is full of potential. While governments will need to spend significant amounts of money to address immediate needs during this crisis, the revenue that isn’t being generated by economic activity will create a second round of hardship in the form of reduced taxes for local, county, and state coffers – funds that are needed for schools, healthcare, public safety, and other important services. While lately it seems as though the public sector and the business community have been pitted against one another in political spats, this crisis is a reminder that we are deeply connected and depend on the health and vitality of each other.
As for our own industry, the forest sector is considered an essential industry at the national and state level because we produce items needed for shipping, shelter, critical repairs, and important household and medical uses. Being essential doesn’t make you invulnerable. We don’t exist in isolation either. With the COVID-19 crisis, many lumber yards have closed and construction in some areas has been put on hold, drastically reducing demand for lumber products. As a result, we’ve made the painful decision (as have many in the industry) to temporarily curtail production at two of our sawmills in Oregon.
We’re doing everything we can to bring these mills back online. In the meantime, we’re also doing what we can for communities affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns by sharing safety equipment, supporting local food pantries and rental assistance organizations, and buying gift cards from local restaurants for distribution to community aid groups. We all need to come together to ensure the communities we live in survive this hardship and continue to be places we want to live, work, and raise families.
On a more personal note, I have been truly inspired by the kindness, spirit, and ingenuity we’ve seen on display over these past few weeks. Thousands of homemade facemasks are making their way to healthcare workers around the world. People are stepping up to run errands for vulnerable neighbors and taking time to send thanks and moral support to health providers. And necessity is indeed the mother of invention as we’ve seen from the manufacture of health care equipment by the likes of Nike and General Motors and in the creativity employed by those adapting to the realities of homeschooling and distant communications with loved ones.
We might be self-isolating now, but we are as connected as ever. The connections that can make us vulnerable in times of crisis—socially as well as economically—will be the same ones that see us through these difficult times and onto better days.