The Clark County delegation to the state legislature gathered online today for the 2020 Legislative Review and Economic Recovery Update, a webinar produced by the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce (GVCC) in partnership with the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) and Identity Clark County (ICC).
Speakers included state legislators from the 17th, 18th and 49th districts as well as Chris Green, assistant director, Office of Economic Development and Competitiveness, at the state Department of Commerce.
The webinar was largely focused on the hurdles to reopening business in Southwest Washington and across the state, and the tools and resources available to businesses as Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen activity moves to Phase 2 and beyond starting in June.
The legislators emphasized that with a minimum of a $7 billion shortfall in the state budget, it was unlikely that further grants would be afforded to businesses in the coming months, and that no-state level stimulus would be available. Recipients of $10 million in Working Washington Small Business Emergency Grants will be announced soon, said Green, but only about 2,200 businesses will receive those $10,000-or-less grants, and that more than $26,000 businesses applied for the grants in the first few days after they were announced. The money for those grants came out of the state budget for business recruitment, which helped bring local companies AbSci and RealWear to Clark County.
Of grave concern to businesses, especially those that have direct care components such as hospices and assisted living centers, is how to find personal protective equipment such as masks and thermometers at a fair price and whether business activity would be able to resume if businesses could not find such equipment because of fierce competition.
Green said his department recently contracted with a negotiator to source more supplies from China, while Rep. Sharon Wylie (D-49) said Clark County Regional Emergency Services is warehousing PPE to be made available to “different organizations who take care of people.”
Sen. Ann Rivers (R-18) said the Washington Hospital Association is also warehousing PPE and is selling masks at cost.
Green said it wasn’t likely that businesses will have to monitor customers for signs of illness but would be responsible for collecting self-reports from employees and following state mandates around safety and health to open, and remain open.
Rep. Paul Harris (R-17) stressed that business as usual is likely to be permanently changed by the pandemic, with companies likely leasing less real estate, and fewer cars on the road. Heading into the pandemic, the I-5 Bridge replacement was ramping up again.
“I don’t know we’ll have the capacity of transportation driving across that bridge,” Harris said. In addition, revenues from the gas tax and other transportation funding sources are down significantly and likely to stay down for months. “A lot of us are waiting for the revenue forecast in June … to see what the hole looks like.”
Consumer spending and confidence is high on the list of concerns for business owners, as indicated by a recent survey of GVCC members.
Rivers said, “Consumer confidence will get a boost when they see businesses showing the utmost care for the safety of their customers.”
Childcare access, the hotly disputed B&O tax, construction permitting and broadband access were all covered in questions from the 150 attendees on the webinar, and most questions remain unresolved at this time.
Harris ended the webinar with encouraging words for attendees.
“Do not become discouraged, these are difficult times,” he said. “Our lives are going to be changed from this, it’s time to think outside the box.”