April Message from Board Chair Karen Vineyard

Published Wednesday, April 8, 2020

My first few months as your OBI Board Chair have been marked by a public health crisis of unprecedented magnitude. Since the first case of the novel coronavirus in Oregon was confirmed, our communities have been enveloped in chaos, fear and uncertainty.

In March, with the most vulnerable Oregonians in mind, Gov. Kate Brown ordered the public to stay home, directed certain businesses to close their doors, and implemented important social distancing guidelines for essential businesses. These were extremely hard but necessary steps to control the spread of COVID-19 in our state. Many businesses, including several OBI members, have been devastated financially either because they were ordered to close or because their operations were fundamentally impacted through a loss of customers or disruptions to supply chains.

The result has been skyrocketing unemployment that has overwhelmed the system, and a state economy facing what could likely be a sharp recession. At this time, it’s hard to calibrate the economic impact because the circumstances that got us here are unlike any we’ve experienced before.

But in all this darkness, there are so many rays of light. As a state, and as a nation, we have come together like never before to look out for our neighbors. I am so proud of OBI members, including my own employer, Bank of America, for stepping up during Oregon’s time of need to support their employees, their customers and their communities. It’s not an overstatement to say that these businesses are helping save lives.

As a banker, I have to start with a shout out to Oregon’s financial institutions, banks and credit unions, for the incredible work they are doing to make the federal CARES Act financial assistance available to businesses in need. The program became operational last Friday, April 3, but what is not well known is that we did not have federal guidance for how it was supposed to work until very late the day before. Knowing the federal money is available on a first-come, first-served basis, institutions across our state worked around the clock to make sure Oregonians could apply for the loans as quickly as possible. We are still working through challenges, including the Small Business Administration’s capacity to process the millions of applications that are coming in, but I am sure we will see a significant share of that federal money find its way to Oregon because of the good work of our state’s banks and credit unions.

Other OBI members have shown incredible creativity in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Dutch Bros Coffee, a brand known throughout the country for delicious coffee, tea, treats and great customer service, has announced that it will be donating 100% of April profits to First Responders First, an organization supporting our medical community and those workers on the front lines of this crisis who make it possible for the rest of us to stay home and healthy.

A-dec Inc., a family-owned dental supply manufacturing business in Newberg, is retooling their operations to be able to send thousands of face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) to Legacy Health hospitals in Portland, which are in dire need as our nation faces a shortage.

Nike is producing PPE at its production facilities in Oregon and Missouri, working with a design produced in coordination with Oregon Health & Science University. Hospitals in Oregon are expected to benefit from the availability of this critically needed equipment.

Moda Health is partnering with Oregon’s craft distillers to produce a hand sanitizer, another commodity in dangerously short supply. They expect to produce as much as 20,000 gallons of sanitizer per week.

Community Management, Inc., a property management company in Portland, has been searching for face masks to protect their front-line staff. With everything out of stock or significantly more expensive, two of their community managers stepped in and hand sewed fabric masks for their nearly 130 employees.

OBI’s utility members, Cascade Natural Gas, Portland General Electric, NW Natural, Avista Utilities and Pacific Power are relieving customers of late fees and service disruptions due to an inability to pay bills because of hardships created by the COVID-19 crisis. 

As classrooms across the state remain empty, AT&T is making sure marginalized students don’t experience any gaps in their education by providing a $10 million fund to support distance learning, especially for those without internet access at home. Comcast is offering two months of free internet to low income Internet Essentials customers and raising the speed of that service.

Walmart is hiring 150,000 new associates nationwide by the end of May, including 1,200 in Oregon, and is providing $550 million in special bonuses for their employees. Target has pledged a $300 million investment for increased wages for their workers, on top of significant donations of PPE to medical communities.

And businesses across the state have contributed to funds created by the Oregon Community Foundation, Progress Portland and others to help small businesses facing cash-flow challenges as a result of the COVID-19 economic challenges. 

OBI is committed to seeing our community through this tough time. Fortunately, these efforts are a just a handful of thousands by our local businesses. Together, we will weather this crisis if we continue to work together to protect the health and economic security of our citizens. 

We want to hear from you: What is your business doing to help your employees, customers or your community during this pandemic? Send us a note – no action is too small. 

And, thank you, for all you do, at home and at work, to support Oregonians as we work through this challenge. Together, we will see it through.