Whatcom County businesses must step forward and make their voice heard

Things were normal. Then they weren’t. Then everything was closed. Then a few things could open—and that is where things have stayed. In early June Whatcom County moved to Phase 2 of the Governor’s Safe Start Plan, and for the time being that is where Whatcom County will remain. Per Governor Jay Inslee’s latest order, the soonest the County could move to Stage 3 would be July 28th—though most indications point to the County remaining in Phase 2 for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, Whatcom County continues to see troubling economic trends. Sales tax revenue from visiting Canadian shoppers has all but disappeared. Many of the County’s key industries—travel, tourism, the arts, agriculture, and retail—have been severely impacted by the pandemic and the resulting closures. The recent curtailment at Alcoa’s Intalco Works plant inflicted further damage on an already hobbled local economy.

While the Pacific Northwest has been booming for longer than most people have lived here, growth is not a given.

They once thought the steel mills would never leave Youngtown, Ohio. Then they did. And nothing has ever been the same. Whatcom County is not immune from suffering a similar fate. There is a world full of beautiful places decimated by poverty.

It can happen here.

As an alliance of local businesses, the WBA believes state and county public health experts need to do a better job of making business a partner in the fight against coronavirus and the economic impact of the ongoing restrictions—rather than treating the private sector solely as a subject of regulatory focus.

The Whatcom County business community also needs to use our voice. We need to serve as a partner to elected officials and public health experts and do its part to help keep the public safe—just as we have been doing for almost five months. However, business leaders also need to help educate officials on the consequences of their decisions. Over the last few months, Governor Inslee has repeatedly compared re-opening the economy to a dimmer, rather than an on/off switch. That makes sense. Easing back into economic activity is a prudent strategy in a pandemic.

But just like Safe Start plans, businesses also do not have an on/off switch. You cannot close them for three months, open them for a month, close them for nine days, and on and on. And, while the County is yet to move backward in the Safe Start plan, local officials have made it clear that that is a possibility.

Erratic revenue is a problem for most businesses, but uncertainty is even worse. A business that doesn’t know when—or even if—it will be open again quickly becomes a liability for the owner.

As a business community, we must step forward and illustrate the risk to the local economy and public health if local businesses remain closed.

Officials also must include the private sector in discussions and planning for all scenarios, including the one where an effective vaccine isn’t developed for years—if ever.

The Whatcom Business Alliance Policy Center is here to help the business community find and amplify its voice. We are a nonpartisan advocacy center focused on being the voice of business to local elected officials. By supporting our work, you help make sure that business has the ability to speak with a voice loud enough that policymakers can hear.

There are tough decisions ahead, and no one envies the officials responsible for making those decisions. However, the best decisions will also consider the input of a business community that has always put both the health and economic security of Whatcom County first.