King County in Washington was ground zero for the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States (https://www.statnews.com/2020/02/29/new-covid-19-death-raises-concerns-about-virus-spread-in-nursing-homes/). When the first ill wind of the virus started to blow, King County had an amazing, robust economic garden in place for the Seattle metropolitan area. This is easily documented with the King County Financial & Business Operations Division Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report – King County) which conveys that in 2019, the last complete year before the pandemic, King County collected $943,596,000 in sales and business & occupational taxes, gross revenue taxes generated from economic activity, and the unemployment rate at the end of 2019 in King County was an amazing 2.30% (King County, WA Unemployment Rate (ycharts.com)). Low unemployment being the best economic force to increase labor rates. Pre-pandemic, the strong national economy was lifting all boats, especially some of the demographic groups that were poorly served in other economies, a positive for all of us who believe America offers all its citizens unique opportunities in career choice freedom and financial upward mobility not found in the rest of the world (https://thefederalist.com/2020/11/02/under-trump-americans-have-seen-their-best-wage-growth-in-40-years/).
Concerned about public health local and state governance limited the ability to work, run small businesses, and for our community to shop retail, enjoy hospitality offerings, and purchase certain services. This resulted in an over $58 million drop in the collection of sales and business & occupational tax collection in 2020 for King County and an increase in the unemployment rate to 5.80% at the end of the year. The question of whether at the national, state, and local level the right strategies to address the community needs of public health, mental health, education, and economic health were addressed from a public policy perspective will be debated in academic circles for years. I personally have always favored collecting many learned opinions and holding robust discussion prior to implementing action. In this situation, I wish the opinions coming out of Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford behind the Great Barrington Declaration (https://gbdeclaration.org/) had been given more consideration than only focusing on the ideas of a few inside the Beltway in Washington DC.
The good news is from a public health perspective Washington has done very well. We rank 45th in the United States in terms of deaths per 100,000 by COVID-19 after two years (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1109011/coronavirus-covid19-death-rates-us-by-state/). These results led last week to King County allowing all its citizens to once again have equal access to restaurants, bars, and gyms (https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/king-county-will-end-covid-vaccine-requirements-at-restaurants-bars-gyms/) a very positive economic step, as small businesses through following temporary rules have had to deny access to some of their favorite, long time, loyal, customers. In addition, the State of Washington will greatly reduce its mask mandates in March (https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2022/feb/17/washingtons-mask-mandate-will-end-march-21-inslee-/). A long overdue acknowledgement that the need for psychological messaging of a state of fear is now over and that a significant majority of the masks being worn in our communities offer little or no protection (https://brownstone.org/articles/more-than-150-comparative-studies-and-articles-on-mask-ineffectiveness-and-harms/). It should also be noted that the Pacific Northwest is one of the last areas of the United States to come to this science based conclusion (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/only-4-states-still-have-indoor-mask-mandates-fauci-sees-crisis-stage-exit/ar-AAU0sKE).
Every winter transitions to spring, that is starting to occur on the calendar and economically in King County. I encourage every one of the over 2.3 million people living and working in King County to roll up their sleeves and go to work to help nurture and regrow our community garden to where it was at the end of 2019. The following are some of the positions that need to be filled:
- Business to End Consumer Customers – This is the easiest role to fill. It is simply supporting the businesses you like and doing the things that you enjoy. I took my hound for a walk Saturday with a friend. She told me about a wonderful experience where she and a group of friends went out and saw live music for the first time since the pandemic started the night before. With a smile she said, it was so nice to dance again. A couple of days previously, I provided consulting services to a successful esthetician and entrepreneur, she is so ready for the mask mandates to end, she hopes people will return for facials and other personal services as the fear dissipates. Please think about shopping local for retail purchases and using service providers in your community, those purchases create employment opportunities, encourage small business ownership, bring tax dollars into the area on multiple levels, and generally improve the quality of life.
- Business to Business Transactions – If you are entrepreneur or are involved in purchasing as an employee please think local with your purchases. Yes, you can order printed goods online, but supporting a local print shop means that if you need that business in the future they will be there for you. The same is true if your need an auto mechanic to service your fleet, want to upgrade your website, or need help filing a position from a staffing company.
- Community Support & Involvement – I have personally sold Seattle Flowers (seattleflowers.com) twice in my twenty-eight years as a business broker. The business operates from a beautiful, corner location in Seattle. Its windows have been broken six times in the last year. The owner, Bill Rieg, is contemplating leaving the neighborhood. It is wrong on multiple levels that this change is being contemplated. It is not desired or budgeted. We, as a community, need to own and take responsibility for our streets and neighborhoods. We need to hold local governance accountable for allowing crime, homeless populations, and litter to impact the gem that has been called the Emerald City. Please support the local police and encourage them to enforce the law. Significant studies have shown that “Broken Window Policing” has worked in the past. The basic theory is that if you hold people responsible for the small stuff (Petty theft, litter, not paying to ride mass transit, etc.) then they will not progress to more serious crimes. https://cebcp.org/EVIDENCE-BASED-POLICING/WHAT-WORKS-IN-POLICING/RESEARCH-EVIDENCE-REVIEW/BROKEN-WINDOWS-POLICING/
Think problems are not developing locally. We have invested significant tax dollars to build a light rail system in the metropolitan area. Part of the payback on that investment is the collection of fares from riders. A culture is being created where people do not pay fares. https://www.masstransitmag.com/technology/fare-collection/news/21256012/wa-editorial-strong-transit-needs-fare-enforcement This needs to be addressed early and proactively in 2022.
- Return to Traditional Work Environments – Humans are social animals. We are happier as a species when we have regular engagement with other people. The quality of work performed and job satisfaction are diminished for all, but a select group of people, from predominantly virtual employment. Employee turnover is costly for businesses in terms of community knowledge, skill, and experience. The best companies have employee groups that are long term with a culture of compassion & achievement. The following article provides some additional reason in favor of in person engagement in the workplace: https://www.coworkingresources.org/blog/the-negative-effects-of-working-from-home-on-company-culture In addition, to company centric benefits, in person working environments have a positive impact on the local business ecosystem. Benefits include engagement with local food & retail merchants; higher need for company services from janitorial to corporate event planning; and the need for office, retail, and industrial space resulting in increased real estate occupancy rates, new construction, and tenant improvement generating dollars to irrigate a local economy.
- VOTE – 2022 is an election year. Judge performance and cast a referendum on what you have seen & experienced. Never forget that elected officials are accountable to you for their actions. If a job is not being done to your satisfaction, a change should be made whether it is someone providing some support cleaning up your yard or a politician who is being negligent in their responsibilities.
I am a Pacific Northwest boy. I have lived in Portland, Oregon for 15 years and Seattle for 30. I love everything about this region from Cannon Beach to Mount Rainier. I cheer for the Trailblazers, Seahawks, and Mariners. This article could have as easily been written about Portland. The issues facing the cities are similar. Please join me in proactively working to nurture and restore the gardens in the Emerald & Rose cities like they were before an 100 year pandemic event arrived on our shores.
IBA, the Pacific Northwest’s premier business brokerage firm since 1975, is available as an information resource to the media, business brokerage, and mergers & acquisitions community on subjects relevant to the purchase & sale of privately held companies and family owned businesses. IBA is recognized as one of the best business brokerage firms in the nation based on its long track record of successfully negotiating “win-win” business sale transactions in environments of full disclosure employing “best practices”.