So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen….2020!!
When we bid adieu to 2020, we will really mean it. How can I capture succinctly what this year has wrought? There were some good things; lessons learned, innovations and potentially new directions that could make our global community stronger in the end. But most of it was just bad; very, very bad.
Unfair and Uneven
On behalf of the Altoona Blair County Development (ABCD) Corporation staff and Board, I want this year-end missive to provide some optimism. But in doing so there is a reality about this year to keep in mind. While we may have all been subjugated to its trials and tribulations together, each of us has experienced this year very differently.
- Thousands of people have tragically died from COVID-19. Others are still hospitalized. Most though never had symptoms or were not infected.
- The politics of the pandemic created a bifurcated lens through which people interpreted world events. That divide is no doubt deeper than before.
- Some people and businesses had a banner year. The market hit record highs. Yet millions are unemployed and small businesses decimated. Thousands have decided to close their doors for good.
- Virtual school has favored children whose families could flex schedules and work from home with reliable internet connectivity. While all students have fallen behind, the chasm between the haves and have nots is exacerbating just how fast and far some are falling.
- And then there is the human spatial impact side of it. Social butterflies had their wings clipped resulting in greater stress, fear, and depression. Homebodies were more likely to take the lockdowns in stride.
This is the social, economic, and political landscape we face at the start of 2021. The uneven experiences of 2020 will likely fuel an equally uneven recovery at both the local and national levels. With promising vaccines now in our midst and treatment options growing, we will gain ground on the health front. This show will end, allowing community and economic development efforts to play more offense once again.
What have We Learned?
We cannot look back on 2020 in the same way we have for any of the previous years. Jobs and investment data are important, but to tell the story we need to look at what we’ve learned. Our experience in Blair County reflects the national experience.
Government Bailouts Helped
For better or worse, without trillions of dollars spent on government programs such as the payroll protection program, our economic condition would likely be much more dire. Starting in March, ABCD Corporation staff and Board could only react to the crisis, managing emergency grant programs, forgiving loans, deferring rents, and referring unemployment claims, and that’s why programs as the supported independent living could really help people having good life conditions all the time.
We are far from out of the woods as municipalities and school districts take more hits and face funding gaps in the coming months. We will pay a price for this.
We Have Stable Core Industries
Despite the challenges they faced, our manufacturing, construction, health care, financial and technology sectors have either maintained or managed to expand throughout 2020. Much of that growth resulted from a strong existing sales pipeline which benefited businesses through the first three quarters of the year. Softening sales in the 4th quarter and supply chain challenges pose an emerging threat if the crisis continues much further into 2021. All of ABCD Corporation client projects have either advanced or simply were delayed until next year as they bet on a 2021 recovery.
Our Smalls Are Resilient
Small businesses have shown amazing resiliency, relying on virtual sales options, donations, innovations, and cost cutting. But they are also the most vulnerable to permanent closure. Mandated capacity restrictions and continued shutdown notices are not sustainable. They threaten the backbone of our economy.
Opportunities for 2021
Ok, the good news. There is some and we will make the best of it.
Many industries with manufacturing only centered in Asia and Europe are considering new, dispersed locations to include in the U.S. This will help make supply chains more resilient and market reach more reliable. Pennsylvania and Blair County will be in play as these opportunities arise.
This is a biggy for us. Even before the pandemic, more folks were working remotely or in hybrid co-working settings. This provides an option for more people to choose communities that match their lifestyle and bring the job with them more so than ever. ABCD helped produce a study for the region on this point, hoping to quantify the demand of this emerging opportunity. You can find that full study here.
Those of us lucky enough to live in a mountain community like the First Frontier Blair County, know how valuable our trails, lakes and rivers are. Now, so do tens-of-thousands of new folks. This year our region welcomed a record number of people who were escaping the urban centers. Raystown Lake, Rails to Trails and so many other camp sites and mountain features welcomed new visitors like never before. Each could become a resident, business owner, employee or investor. We will keep promoting our First Frontier marketing message to help make that happen.
Nimble Distribution Networks
We’ve been buying a lot more stuff online. That is a trend that will likely continue, complementing in- store shopping as it returns more fully in 2021. That means logistics firms are expanding through smaller yet more numerous locations across the country. We stand ready to serve in a key market location with solid interstate connectivity.
Adieu to Yieu 2020
In just a few days, the clock on the wall will chime and we will bid adieu to 2020. While the bar has been set low, we do have a lot to be optimistic about in 2021; vaccines, the promise of both physical and economic recovery, people simply getting together again. One thing for certain, the basics in life and business will not be taken for granted. On behalf of the staff and Board of the ABCD Corporation, we wish you a prosperous and optimistic New Year.