The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: Perspectives on the pandemic

The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: Perspectives on the pandemic
Bill Reagan (Alexandria Small Business Development Center)

How long did it take for you to feel comfortable not wearing your mask in public? We’re making our way through this awkward period known as we “return to normal”. On one hand, we’re glad to not have to wear those masks, but it’s still a bit uncomfortable in circumstances where a few are still wearing them.

We’re excited to be able to travel again, but that’s tempered by the chaotic rental car shortage and inconsistent circumstances at some destinations.

Establishments and offices are now reconfiguring to hybrid models that can feel a bit strange. Face-to-face interactions are back, but with a few hygienic safeguards.

At this time of awkwardness tinged with hope and expectation, it’s productive to reflect on the experiences and accomplishments of the past sixteen months. The pandemic forced us to do things that were life-, work- and community-changing, and all of these might just be the better for it.

Certainly, among the most significant examples was the value of analytical and decisive leadership. Alexandria was fortunate to have the likes of Mark Jinks and elected officials who anticipated the severity of the circumstances and took bold actions. They could not have known the duration of pandemic impacts, but nonetheless set the pace for city staff to waive public right-of-way restrictions, base decisions on CDC guidelines, and seek every workaround possible to keep the public and economy as robust as possible.

Alexandria is also fortunate to have a business community where economic development, chamber of commerce, tourism, small business assistance and neighborhood business groups work closely together to identify and solve problems. Enough cannot be said about the teamwork that was and continues to be how we operate and support one another.

Businesses and nonprofits themselves were also adaptive and innovative. With no template for the conditions they faced, they nonetheless figured out how to connect with and meet the needs of customers, members, and those they serve. Consumer behavior has changed forever, and organizations are actively making adjustments to the new expectations.

It’s not settled at this point how different our workplaces will be, the new proportion of telework-to-office space. The ripple effects will be broad and profound – and both positive and negative.

For all the setbacks, the pandemic precipitated changes that are not that bad! It prompted us to close the 100 block of King Street and the public loves it. It gave us cocktails-to-go and there’s hope those will continue. Alexandria has added cosmopolitan flair to its historic charm!

We learned to be more conscientious about hygiene. We quickly adapted to wearing masks, and became more cautious about touching surfaces, washing our hands and using disinfectant. While avoiding COVID-19, we also got through a winter with fewer colds and sore throats. We’ll see just how readily those habits are resurrected to avoid common infections.

It’s important to recognize that we faced a deadly worldwide threat together. We suffered losses. We also learned new approaches. We have every reason to feel particularly grateful and proud.

The writer is executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.