by Natasha Ashenhurst • Photography by Heather Harris, Elements Photography
In the third week of March 2020, I sat down with Michael Cade, Executive Director of the Thurston Economic Development Council, Shauna Stewart, CEO of Experience Olympia & Beyond and David Schaffert, President & CEO of the Thurston County Chamber to talk about aligning resources to provide support to Thurston County businesses impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and to talk about strategies for recovery. Ultimately, we talked about what makes a community resilient and why they believe, without a doubt, that Thurston County will get through this stronger than ever.
The second week of March 2020, when Governor Inslee began issuing proclamations limiting the size of gatherings, closing schools statewide, limiting food and beverage services and restrictions on non-medical procedures, David Schaffert, Thurston Chamber’s President/CEO said he sat in his office for three days numb and in shock. Businesses were closing their doors, some temporarily, but others, permanently. “I received call after call from devastated business owners in so much pain and under so much stress. Some broke down crying. They expressed their devastation that they were letting their employees, families and community down. The pain is immense, and it shook me,” he said.
Michael and Shauna shared similar experiences.
“The hospitality industry imploded,” said Shauna. “And we aren’t at the bottom yet. This is worse than 9/11 and the 2008 recession combined. People are suffering. Over the last week, our team reached out to several hotels and member businesses and had some very difficult conversations. Once the people we speak to become aware of the options available in our community, I can hear a weight lifted and a sense of relief. There is so much conflicting information out there right now, and people are overwhelmed. What helps is folks tapping into relationships and connections and leaning in on one another for relief and support,” she said.
“We haven’t worked less than a 14-hour day since February,” said Michael. “Right now, we’re creating a raft of support for our businesses, providing resources, and one-on-one counseling. Just yesterday, we put five people in front of counselors to talk about cash flow and resources. We don’t promise we can solve everyone’s problems. Still, we can let people know what resources are available and what support is available to get them through the crisis phase and tide them over until we’re in the recovery phase.”
Support Networks & Resources
All three organizations have an incredible amount of helpful information on their websites. Still, more importantly, each has trained every single staff member to take calls from businesses who need help sifting through available resources and gaining a clearer understanding of what options are available during the crisis. The message each organization is preaching is simple: don’t let social distancing mandates become a reason to walk through this alone. All three have created virtual spaces to engage.
“You are not alone! We can’t walk in your shoes because this business is your baby, but we can set up a counseling session for clarity of purpose and so you can tap into an incredible network of resources,” said Michael. “Fill out an economic injury form. We have to have the data for our recovery plan and to obtain federal recovery dollars for our businesses! Contact your landlord and talk about your lease. Contact vendors and restructure contracts. Explore alternative methods to offer goods and services. Extend lines of credit. Keep your customers up to date with daily updates. Trim as many expenses as possible. Sell non-essential assets to generate cash. Contact other businesses to see if there are goods and services you can share. Move services online. If you own a restaurant, get your menu online! Contact your insurance company. Be positive. Find a mentor. Find someone to talk to. Stay in touch with Experience Olympia, your EDC, your Chamber. There is an economic solution,” he said.
“Yes! We want to hear from you. We’re here to support and advocate for your success and your people. For the next six weeks, our efforts will be about triage and support,” said David.
All three agree: They don’t care which door you walk through. Call, and they’ll figure it out and will put their network and referrals to work for businesses.
What Recovery Looks Like
Once the COVID-19 crisis eases, community leaders can begin to provide opportunities for healing. And Shauna, David and Michael agree that Thurston County is in an excellent position to recover.
“If you look at the big picture, Thurston County has an intricate and elegant economy. We have strong entrepreneurs that continually seek new markets and new ways of doing business. Our economic system is built on networks and relationships, and this includes our community development organizations such as the Chamber, the EDC and Experience Olympia and our outstanding partners in education,” said Michael.
Shauna agrees, “The power of partnership is profound. I hold my hope in our local culture. People here are intentional, passionate and creative. We look at the problem straight on and find solutions, innovations and new systems. I believe it is our spirit of entrepreneurship that will pull us out and get us to recovery,” she said.
Ultimately, what recovery looks like depends on resilience—our ability to cope, bounce back and thrive despite overwhelming barriers.
“There are no easy answers right now,” said David. “Right now, we can’t provide solutions. It is too early for that. What we can do is provide support and resources during this difficult time. All we ask is for folks to connect with us — please don’t go through this alone.”
We’re all in this together…
Whether you are a small business owner, a teacher, a state worker or a bank teller. Please do all or one of these three things:
Please fill out an economic injury form at http://www.thurstonedc.com. We need this data to obtain resources for recovery.
If you are a small business owner, visit thurstonchamber.com or thurstonedc.com and look at the resources available to you. If you are in the hospitality industry, also visit http://www.experienceolympia.com.
Call us. Tell us how you are doing. Share your experience with one other person. We’ll make sure you are connected. Don’t go through this alone. Please, take care of yourself, take care of your business and get ready for the recovery.
Thurston County Chamber 360-357-3362
Experience Olympia & Beyond 360-704-7544
Thurston EDC 360-754-6320