How Do We Reopen... with Patience, Adaptability and Resilience
Texarkana Monthly Columnist Sonja Yates Hubbard shares her opinion.
“I can’t wait to get back to normal,” is a thought I’ve had countless times since mid-March. As restrictions began to loosen recently, I’ve experienced excitement yet trepidation and debated what ‘back to normal’ even is, much less, how and when will we get there.
My opinions on the impact of this pandemic are different today than they were in March. With passing regard to COVID-19, I attended a large conference in Ft. Worth and then, along with my husband, traveled out of town for a vacation with my daughter who lives in New York City. While on vacation NYC essentially shut down, as well as the world. My thinking on where we were and where we were going morphed through this Twilight Zone like dream and is still ever-changing as we continue to learn more daily.
Texarkana has an unwavering spirit that will guide our community through these uncertain times.” —AR-TX REDI President & CEO, Rob Sitterley
Mid-March was shocking. I watched the news with deep empathy and stress, but also with distance. The rise of confirmed cases in places like Washington state, New York, and California were tragic, but also far from my everyday life. Until they weren’t. When our community shut down on March 21, it all suddenly became far more personal. Still, I had naïve expectations to be ‘back to normal’ in just a few weeks.
Then came the horrors of so many deaths, medical facilities overwhelmed, and economic devastation rivaling the Great Depression. On the positive side, I have been amazed and hold unending respect for the skill, loyalty and tenacity of our first responders, front line and essential workers who kept things going while we didn’t. I learned many of the most valuable jobs are the ones we take for granted. Visualize a community without sanitation services for six weeks!
These events have altered my opinion of where we are and where we are going. Today, I debate the eternally optimistic Sonja who thinks we can have an ‘almost normal’ late summer versus the pragmatic Sonja who knows our world is forever changed.
I’m uncertain about much, but I do know we will not remain here. This too shall pass, so how do we reopen? We will do it just like we’ve always done as a society, country, and species…with amazing adaptability and resilience. The harder part will be accepting that to get there will also require patience.
“As we’ve lived through this public health crisis the past seven weeks, we’ve had ebbs and flows and the situation has changed almost daily,” said Bowie County Health Authority Dr. Matt Young. “We’re constantly reading through protocols and guidelines, seeking to understand the latest executive orders, working with nearby jurisdictions, looking at the newest sets of data and research and carrying out plans to keep our community as safe as possible.” He added, “Currently we are averaging one or two new cases a day and our hospitals, private clinics, and EMS services are more than capable of handling the load of COVID-19 patients they’re treating. While this is positive news, we must be ever vigilant moving forward to ensure that we don’t see any outbreaks of the virus as we reopen.“
These sentiments of cautious optimism are repeated by our local officials. Mayor of Texarkana-TX, Bob Bruggeman, shared, “I think Governor Abbott has been very methodical and cautious in reopening Texas. The current 25% occupancy level will be a good test case. If COVID-19 cases don’t spike during this time, then an increase of 50% occupancy will be forthcoming. If positive test cases increase during this time, things will be reevaluated.” Hopefully, our patience and compliance will be rewarded with the additional relaxation of restrictions and, more importantly—we will save lives. Mayor of Texarkana-AR, Allen Brown, echoed similar sentiments and cautioned, adaptable entrepreneurs in the world we will adjust, adapt, and will be back even stronger.
Currently we are averaging one or two new cases a day... While this is positive news, we must be ever vigilant moving forward to ensure that we don’t see any outbreaks of the virus as we reopen. —Dr. Matt Young, Bowie County Health Authority
“It is imperative that the citizens continue to comply with the guidelines set forth by our Governors. By doing so we will rebound faster and reduce the impact of this virus.” We are moving forward and out of the surreal fog, but, it’s going to take patience to accept the ongoing restrictions and changes to our everyday lives.
It’s also going to take some patience as we look for the economy to rebound, businesses to open, and jobs to return. Gross domestic product (GDP) is the total value of everything produced in a country. When economists talk about the “size” of an economy, they are referring to GDP. Some economists are now projecting the second quarter US GDP could drop by 33%; a staggering number. Even averaged over the year (assuming we quickly return to normal operations) the 2020 GDP decline could still be almost $2 trillion.
The harsh reality is that some businesses will not come back and jobs will be eliminated. But with the most driven and adaptable entrepreneurs in the world we will adjust, adapt, and will be back even stronger.
Many businesses are already showing that ‘can do’ spirit by changing their operations to adopt more hygienic processes, implementing distancing standards, developing new order and delivery methods and innovating improved ways to do business. They are adjusting to different conditions and finding ways to not only survive but thrive. We will look back on this time and find innovations that truly revolutionize and improve our quality of life. NASA space exploration changed how we live today and COVID-19 will change how we live tomorrow.
“Reopening and building resiliency within our community requires a delicate balance between the health of our residents and the health of our economy,” said AR-TX REDI President & CEO, Rob Sitterley. “But from the moment this pandemic began our community has demonstrated its strength with companies like Mayo Manufacturing retooling operations to provide masks for first responders and essential businesses.”
Similar observations from Mike Malone, President & CEO of the Texarkana USA Chamber of Commerce affirmed this community’s tenacity and drive. “We view the community as eager to ‘get back to work’. We see our businesses taking steps to not have a repeat of the last few weeks, striving to open up, but carefully, to protect not only the customers but also their employers. It isn’t a time of recklessness, but a time of careful but determined action to move ahead.”
Reopening and building resiliency within our community requires a delicate balance between the health of our residents and the health of our economy. —AR-TX REDI President & CEO, Rob Sitterley
Moving ahead we are! Kyle Dooley, Executive Director and CEO of Riverbend Water Resources shared that even during this pandemic the organization “continues to work with its members on plans to construct a new regional water treatment facility. Currently, Riverbend is working closely with the Texas Water Development Board in hopes of securing funding through their Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program. Riverbend is hopeful to have funding secured for this project by this summer.” This infrastructure upgrade will serve the area for many decades. Even throughout economic and medical chaos, they are continuing to move forward.
Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke, once said, “History has demonstrated time and again the inherent resilience and recuperative powers of the American economy.” It’s that resiliency that’s getting our community through this phase. The ability, strength, and inspiration to recover will push us through, beyond this place to better days and a brighter future. Rob Sitterley with AR-TX REDI said, “Texarkana has an unwavering spirit that will guide our community through these uncertain times.”
I concur, yes we do! We can and will get through this. I truly believe we have a new focus on what matters and a hardened reality of loss and hardship that will drive innovation and improvement. Frankly, I never got better at anything doing it perfectly. It is through adversity that we learn and grow. We have learned hard lessons but ones that will make us better and stronger. We will come out of this….with patience, adaptability and resilience.
Texarkana Monthly columnists are a group of local influencers whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values.
Sonja Yates Hubbard is former CEO of E-Z Mart Stores Inc., and current Principal of Yates Group, a real estate management and development operation. She is chairman of a local economic development organization, AR-TX REDI and Riverbend Water Resources District. Serving on boards for businesses, education institutions, and charitable and civic organizations including CHRISTUS North East Texas, Arkansas Children’s Hospital System, Opportunities Inc. and UAMS Foundation.
Sonja is a Certified Public Accountant who received a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She has received countless honors and awards including Outstanding CPA in Business & Industry by Arkansas Society of CPAs, Accountant of the Year in Industry/Government by the University of Arkansas, Idalee Hawkins Leader of the Year, and Clyde E. Palmer Civic Achievement Award. She exemplifies the character of someone who creates change.
Recognized as a dedicated community leader she has generously and graciously made an impact well beyond our local community. Sonja has been married to Bob Hubbard since 1981, and they have one daughter, Lauren, who lives in New York City working in the publishing business.