July Message from Board Chair Karen Vineyard

Published Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The economic impacts from COVID-19 are staggering. This is not news to any OBI member, and, indeed, I have written about these impacts in this column in previous months. Our members have proven to be some of the most innovative, generous, and adaptable businesses in the state, if not the country – but none of them are impervious to the crisis at hand.

That is why OBI has teamed up with our partners at Food Northwest and the Oregon Business Council to tell the economic story as Oregon’s elected leaders steer the state toward recovery and a post-pandemic future. This week, we are releasing an economic analysis,  developed by ECONorthwest, that we hope will aid our state’s leaders as we work together to develop public policies aimed at restoring and creating the jobs essential to safely reviving Oregon’s economy.

You can read the report here.

The ECONorthwest report makes it clear that the virus is, to a large degree, in charge right now. If we are to move the state forward economically, we have to first make sure Oregonians are healthy and that they feel safe. We all have to do our part to control the spread of COVID-19.

We commissioned this report from ECONorthwest to better understand how the downturn has impacted different sectors of our state’s economy. The results are shocking: Virtually no industry sector has been left unscathed, and the impact of the downturn has been felt statewide, although the Coast and Central Oregon, areas dependent on the hard-hit travel and hospitality industry, have suffered more than other parts of the state.

The study also shows that some of our state’s most vulnerable populations were hit especially hard by the economic downturn. Job losses were heaviest among Oregonians without college degrees, and our Black colleagues suffered job losses at a disproportionate rate. The Oregon Business Plan partners, including OBI, are building an equity-focused economic recovery plan for Oregon, and the report we’re publishing this week demonstrates why that is so important.

John Tapogna, CEO of EcoNorthwest, says we can expect a “90% economy” in the months ahead. How we adjust to that will be critical. We need to bring back as many jobs as possible and make sure they are developed with an equity lens that helps minority-owned businesses gain a stronger footing in our state and engages workers of color in more opportunities.

We need to identify the steps we can take immediately -- and in the months ahead -- that will put Oregon on the road to economic recovery. This is an imperative, because hundreds of thousands of Oregonians are still unemployed, and we have not yet seen the end of the economic hardship the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought.

The Legislature is expected to meet later this summer for special session to start addressing the state’s budget challenges. Let’s urge them to make sure all of their actions aid the effort of business and other employers to restore jobs – and household incomes – rather than making it harder.

What does that mean?

First, take actions that will help. Right now, the top priority is targeted and temporary liability protections to shield businesses, nonprofits, school districts, counties and cities from unfair lawsuits coming out of this health crisis. If an entity follows the guidance issued by the state, they should not fear being sued. We need this help.

Second, do no harm. This is not the time to enact new taxes and fees to balance troubled budgets, or to enact new regulations that distract from the effort to manage the virus and recover jobs. Every new cost makes it more difficult to bring back jobs. Please, legislators, help us restore the jobs we lost in the coronavirus recession.

And, third, provide assistance. Financial assistance, help with accessing personal protective equipment, worker retraining, child care, tax relief – there are many ways the state can help businesses and workers get back on their feet with simple, targeted actions. In many cases,  assistance could mean the difference between protecting a job or seeing another family struggling for income. We hope lawmakers will work with us to identify those opportunities.

I know OBI stands ready to work with our governor, the Legislature, our business community partners -- and anyone else willing to protect and restore the Oregon jobs as we work hard to recover from this crisis. Join us. And stay safe.