The best view of 2020: The rearview mirror

The best view of 2020: The rearview mirror

About a year ago I was contacted by an executive search firm to apply for the president/CEO position at the Tri-City Development Council, or TRIDEC.

After a two-month process, I was selected. We sold our house in Lewiston and moved down the Snake River to start the best job I have ever had.

But if you asked me when I started in February how I would lead our team from the attic office of our house for at least nine months, I would have wondered if this was a trick interview question!

With the end of 2020 in sight and looking forward to a better 2021, here is a TRIDEC perspective of the year.

The low point: pandemic

Instead of calling it unprecedented, let’s describe Covid-19 as the first global pandemic in six or seven generations.

That means almost no one alive today lived through the last global pandemic of 1918-19, nor did we have the shared experience of a pandemic to prepare for this health care and economic disruptor.

So, as TRIDEC, our regional partners, local businesses and our greater community have done many times before, we joined together to support each other while working to accelerate our economy as we come out of the pandemic.

Here are some of the milestones, programs and activities that TRIDEC has led, partnered and collaborated with to help offset some of the economic impacts of the pandemic.

The high points

PPE Drive: Immediately after the governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order in March, TRIDEC was contacted by our three local hospitals and asked if we could contact local businesses to request Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, donations.

We quickly organized a drive-thru/drop-off campaign in cooperation with the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visit Tri-Cities. This effort netted more than 20,000 pieces of PPE that helped protect our front-line health care workforce and first responders before the global supply chain could catch up with demand.

CARES Act: At the end of March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, aimed at providing economic assistance for American workers and families, small businesses and preserving jobs for American industries.

TRIDEC worked with the Washington delegation to make sure federal contractor employees were paid during the complete shutdown caused by the governor’s order.

This provision has reduced the Covid-19 impact on our economy while allowing the Hanford site and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to retain the workforce that is critical to both of their missions.

Working Washington grants: The state of Washington took $20 million from its Strategic Reserve Fund and created the Working Washington Small Business Grant Programs to help small businesses impacted by the governor’s order.

TRIDEC is an associate development organization, or ADO, for the state, and we worked through local applications to create a prioritized list of affected businesses. This program brought over $545,000 to support businesses in Benton and Franklin counties.

TC Open and Safe Coalition: Started in conjunction with the Tri-City Regional Chamber and Visit Tri-Cities, we formed the Tri-Cities Open and Safe Coalition to help businesses access the Benton-Franklin Health District guidelines and build reopening plans as we transitioned to a modified Phase 1 status in July. These plans included a pledge to follow the guidelines that later became a requirement for re-opening.

Local CARES grants: After assisting on the Working Washington grants, TRIDEC also was able to work with Benton County, Franklin County and the city of West Richland to set up business grants utilizing their designated portions of CARES Act funding. TRIDEC helped local businesses with the complicated application process to qualify. When more Washington Commerce funds were added for both counties, local businesses received $8 million in grants:

Benton County: 294 grants, worth $4.2 million

Franklin County: 273 grants, worth $3.3 million.

City of West Richland: 48 grants, worth $425,000.

Coffee with Karl: Shortly after the TRIDEC team closed our office and began working from home, they came up with a great idea: Coffee with Karl.

Almost every Friday for the past 30 weeks, we have invited local guests to a Zoom webinar where we share a cup of coffee or other beverage with the viewers while discussing their company, organization or current event. These programs have allowed me to meet so many community leaders (some of them for the very first time) remotely while learning more about specific topics. You can access our episodes at tridec.org/cwk.

Looking ahead

While TRIDEC has been working to bring resources to bear on the local impacts of the pandemic, we are encouraged by the opportunities to start, grow and attract businesses. The Tri-Cities continues to build our base of food processing companies that realize the strength of our skilled labor force, proximity to their crops and markets as well as available infrastructure.

Additionally, in October the U.S. Department of Energy selected two companies that have both partnered with Energy Northwest for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

Moving forward, we will be working with Energy Northwest, X-energy and TerraPower/GE-Hitachi to support building their new reactor designs at existing Energy Northwest sites. This will not only add hundreds of jobs in construction and operations to our community but also will give TRIDEC and our partners the chance to build supply chains in nuclear manufacturing and advanced fuels production.

This year has presented many challenges, but as we look back on 2020, we are proud of how our community has come together to overcome them and continue to move the Tri-Cities forward.

Karl Dye is president and CEO of the Tri-City Development Council.


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