Guest Column: It’s time to rally around Washington employers


Tri-City Area Journal of Business | April 2020
Special by Kris Johnson, Association of Washington Business

Washington’s small businesses have entered a new era as our state and nation fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today it’s critical that we support our local small businesses, and all Washington employers, to ensure a strong economic future for our state.

Our state’s small businesses are the foundation of our economy, and they’ve been impacted hard and fast by the coronavirus.

More than 590,000 small employers support more than 1.3 million jobs, the U.S. Small Business Administration reports. Those businesses are everything from custom manufacturers and auto repair shops to trucking firms, local restaurants, hardware stores and breweries.

Many of these jobs and the families that count on them are facing the biggest economic challenge in generations.

A recent survey ofAssociation of Washington Business members shows that 91 percent of employers have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, and 79 percent have experienced a drop in revenue.

Employers also report reduced and delayed hiring. Notably, nearly 22 percent have temporarily closed, and nearly one-third have applied for financial assistance.

There are many great examples of small business creativity, too.

In Olympia there’s a bookstore that makes home deliveries. In Covington, you can pick up a box dinner, a craft kit and a bottle of wine from one local restaurant’s drive-thru.

And in Bingen, a fruit packing company has hired the younger relatives of older, at-risk workers who have to stay home.

It’s no longer business as usual for AWB as well.

We’ve shifted our events to focus on weekly webinars that connect employers with the resources they need to survive, including the latest health information, updates from leading Washington banks and credit unions, and conversations with officials from the Small Business Administration and state Employment Security Department.

AWB partnered with the Washington State Labor Council to urge Congress to pass the most recent federal stimulus package.

Now that the funds are flowing, our partners at financial institutions and the SBA report overwhelming interest. Already, there’s discussion of another stimulus package to increase support for small businesses, and perhaps new federal investments in our country’s infrastructure.

AWB will continue to advocate for strong federal relief to help our country navigate this challenge.

There’s no doubt that the damage to Washington’s small business community is sweeping, unprecedented and incredibly fast. Yet at the height of the crisis, before Congress had passed any comprehensive relief for small businesses, Washington’s employers were stepping up to do the right thing.

On March 20, AWB put out a call to manufacturers, asking if they could retool to manufacture critical medical equipment to help fight the pandemic. Dozens of employers said yes.

The response was heartening.

Manufacturers volunteered to make everything from modular hospitals, N95 masks and face shields to ventilators, custom electronics, hand sanitizer, labeling and stickers, custom metal parts, hospital carts and cases to store equipment.

One comment exemplified the spirit of Washington’s employer community: “We are open to producing anything.”

Washington’s employers are in this fight against COVID-19 for the long haul.

Employers are rising to the challenge and are ready to repurpose their factories and shop floors just like our country did in World War II.

From making medical supplies to supporting family wage jobs, our employers will help us navigate this time of great change.

And when our world emerges on the other side, our small businesses will be leading the recovery.

For now, let’s support our small businesses any way we can.

Every successful company starts with an idea and an entrepreneur willing to take a risk. These employers create and support the jobs that sustain our communities.

During this challenging time, let’s make sure they know that Washington has their back.

Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 edition of the Tri-City Area Journal of Business. It may be found online here