2020: Not bad business!
It's time to put 2020 in the rear-view mirror. Pandemic and protests, election and economy, it's safe to say this has been a year like no other. But before we start making resolutions for 2021, we should look back at 2020 and reflect upon what we experienced and what we learned. To that end, we asked several members of the business community, "How was it for you?"
Executive Vice President and General Manager for Skanska's Oregon operations
Business Tribune: Did your 2020 business fall off a cliff in April — when so many businesses shut down — or did it affect yours differently?
"We did find that certain activities had to be rethought and were put on hold until we could figure out how to safely perform the work maintaining the six feet of separation between personnel. This allowed us to utilize some very creative ways to perform work, and in some ways, we became more efficient at performing certain activities using mechanical means and methods."
BT: What is the first thing your firm will do when it is safe to return to offices, factories and entertainment venues without social distancing?
"If and when social distancing requirements are relaxed, I believe we will continue to perform as we have through the pandemic, and not a lot will change. I look forward to the human interaction that is missing in the site trailers, lunch trailers, and offices during this period of time. I believe infectious disease and pandemics will be a part of the design and construction process for the foreseeable future. I am finding many ways of working in construction have rapidly changed for the better, including working from remote locations and home, which is very positive for construction. If anything, the pandemic response has taught us to plan for each day and to be ready to be flexible."
BT: By the end of 2021: V-shaped recession-recovery or some other form?
"Some other form. We see a strong and steady line with relative consistency. The commercial construction industry has about a three- to five-year horizon in planning and implementation, and as previously mentioned, our client base is as strong as ever. Time will tell if there will be longer-term economic 'ripples' from the pandemic's effects on businesses locally. We believe the market is strong, and if our pipeline and planned pursuits are an indicator, there will be few recession-type concerns."
Amy Beacom, Ed.D.
Founder and CEO of the Center for Parental Leave Leadership @cplleadership
BT: Did your business 2020 fall off a cliff in April — when so many businesses shut down — or did it affect yours differently?
Beacom: As the first consultancy to focus exclusively on parental leave, we help companies help their managers and new parents better prepare to go out on leave, enjoy their time becoming parents, and return in a supported and sustainable way. As you can imagine, that's all happening a bit differently this year! We thought we were going to fall off a cliff in April when the oil and gas industry was decimated and we lost a key client, but luckily that didn't happen. Instead, 2020 has made parenting public and forced employers to adapt to find solutions or lose valuable employees. This has meant our services, which have always been offered in person or remotely, are more in demand and understood than ever. Our biggest pivot this year was figuring out how to expand quickly to meet the growing need from companies looking for timely ways to support their working parents around parental leave and more broadly — while also making sure to support my own working-parent team.
BT: By the end of 2021: V-shaped recession-recovery or some other form?
"In September, we saw eight times more women than men drop out of the workforce because school went back in, and they suddenly found themselves forced to be full-time employees and full-time teachers while still being full-time moms. An impossible ask of anyone, and one which has a seismic impact on our companies and our economy. Women, often the bulk of workers in care and service industries, are not likely to bounce back from this hit anytime soon — meaning some industries (and working families in general) will suffer longer than others. This "she-cession" is likely to be followed by what some people are calling a "he-covery" which will deepen already existing gender, racial, and economic divides.
BT: What surprising things have you learned about business in 2020?
I was surprised by how quickly office-based companies were able to pivot and embrace remote work and flexible working arrangements. With that, it was powerful to see how many companies stepped up and took the support needs of their working parents seriously — offering paid leave, reduced hours, job sharing and support resources such our coaching and mental health tools. I've spent the bulk of my career helping companies understand the bottom-line importance of creating family-friendly workplaces. 2020 did more in a few months to show that working parents are a critical part of our country's economic backbone than any of us working in this field have done in the last few decades. I'm excited to see which parts of this will come with us into the future.
BT: What is your boldest plan for 2021?
Our bold plan for 2021 is to find ways to get free versions of our parental leave support training and resources into the hands of every expectant working parent and their manager in our country. With paid leave policy on the near horizon in Oregon and across the U.S., it is time to move from thinking about policy to improving practice. We have to kick to the curb the idea that parental leave is a black hole of time in a new parent's career that no one is supposed to talk about. After over a decade refining how to do this well for companies and new parents, I'm happy to report there is a way to train managers and support parents that also has the bonus side effect of making companies better workplaces and our country more humane at this critical moment in employees' personal and professional lives. In 2021 we're making sure that information gets into as many hands as possible. Reach out if you have ideas.
Eugene-based architect, AIA Executive VP & CEO of AIA Oregon
"For architects, the pandemic is forcing them to work and engage differently with their consultants and teams. Social distancing is exposing spatial and environmental impacts within buildings. Many explore short-term solutions to allow activities to continue, such as flexible shields/dividers, reducing seating capacity. But what will be the lasting impact? In Oregon, they are also asking how will 2020's wildfires alter development in the urban-rural interface? And how will the focus on systemic racism and social justice impact design and planning?
"Everybody's talking about the temporary changes to the layout in offices and grocery stores, such as plexiglass shields. I don't know that there's any indication how many of those things are going to remain. I do think that there's a lot more research on the movement of airflow and the aerosol versus droplets evaluation of COVID.
"One of our members, Alan Scott of WSP, recently presented about COVID-related research in buildings (vimeo.com/461529781). They have an architect leading the resiliency planning efforts. We're going to see a much more detailed evaluation of airflow and how it affects clean air in the space. I don't know that restaurants are ever going to be really the same, maybe they will become more takeout-oriented.
"Between the school districts in Eugene, Salem, Corvallis and Portland, there were over a billion dollars of bond-funded projects, and mostly the big-ticket items were new schools, big-ticket items. Those firms doing the bigger projects are going to continue to move forward because of the nature of schoolwork and everything else.. Those firms who aren't are going to probably struggle more than they did 10 years ago. It's extremely competitive. You've got to compete against firms with professional liability insurance policy requirements, and that just is another barrier for smaller firms to compete."
Dr. Tom Beer
Deputy director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and chief medical officer of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute's Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research, CEDAR, Center
"We know cancer doesn't stop for a pandemic. And despite the multitude of ways our lives have changed this year, we knew we had to find ways to continue to safely offer treatment and clinical trial options for our patients. I'm so proud of our team, who remained committed to taking care of patients with cancer in the safest way possible while also protecting our entire community. One of the most surprising things to me was how rapidly we were able to pivot toward telehealth. Within a week or so, we made a wholesale shift and were able to care for and interact with our patients in a new way.
"Across all cancer disease groups, we have over 200 trials actively enrolling and about 75% of those utilized telehealth when appropriate. We've all had to adjust as we navigate the changing COVID-19 landscape, and the team at the Knight Cancer Institute was able to continue to offer cutting-edge clinical trial and treatment options for our patients who need it most."
Executive Director The Associated General Contractors of America Oregon-Columbia Chapter
"We (at AGC) worked almost non-stop from the middle of March to the end of April to make sure that construction could stay open. The construction economy was already beginning to sag a little bit before COVID-19 hit. But the ability to keep it going really offset some of the impacts that we saw. In Washington state, it was closed for about two months up there. Some projects have been deferred or canceled, but by and large, the industry is as big as it was. Part of the reason is that we were already a very safe industry. AGC was very active in developing job site safety and health rules for COVID, and we were able to get those out to our job site literally three days.
"We were able to weather this probably better than any of our other sisters and brothers, particularly if you look at restaurants, lodging and the entertainment industry. They have just been decimated.
"We put out a lot of webinars and we've done a lot of training. We push the information out there electronically. We shared all that information with anybody, we didn't care. We did it with chapter AGC chapters from around the country.
"At the AGC national convention in Las Vegas, we were starting to pick up the word that the shutdown might be real. So, we actually sat and talked about it. Just a little clump of a contractors with a few of the agency staff there and the director of safety services. Five of us standing around, (we said) we should start thinking about getting ahead of it.
"In our industry the idea of airborne contaminants is very common. So that gives you a head start on restaurants and places like that, in terms of understanding the threat."
On the outlook for construction:
"There's the long list of future projects that any contractor has in its contracts. They always try to keep up to 18 months ahead, the good ones are able to put up a couple of years worth of work.
(In early 2020) we were starting to see that pipeline get a little shorter, with some softening, but we were going pretty well. And that's why we worked very, very hard to make sure that construction was allowed to continue, but government officials that were making decisions about this understood that we were serious about putting our guidelines in place, we're going to stick to them. The governor (Kate Brown) has often called out construction as a model in how it responded. We're very proud.
"I came aboard AGC in early 2008 right when the roller coaster was heading rapidly downhill. If the overall economy is strong, construction is strong. So, to the extent that that we can get the vaccine out there, and over the succeeding months, it's going to take a while. "We are cautiously optimistic. We have weathered a pretty severe, once in 100 years storm. And this industry is very resilient."
On the shape of the recovery:
"I think we will likely see a pattern that resembles more of a Nike swoosh than anything else. I think it will continue to go down before it starts to go up. And so you'll see this continued downturn for a little while, but as confidence returns in our healthcare and restrictions are relaxed, you will start seeing generally turn up. A general upward path pattern. And that's good for construction.
"AGC and its partners are beginning to build a more aligned, more integrated construction training system that teach people develop those apprentice level skills, hands on skills: how to work with heavy equipment, how to get into a road grader or a backhoe, how to turn it on and actually operated. That's the kind of thing that we need to have, in the way of a skilled workforce. The training programs out there are not particularly well aligned or integrated, and not particularly meeting the needs of state registered apprentice programs. We are in the process now of identifying a 21st century construction worker.
"You may see people with specific specialty skills: they're a carpenter, they're a laborer a cement mason, a plumber or an electrician. But then, there may be other situations where you need one person to be able to do four different types of tasks all at once. How you put in place a system that will support that and still follow the law?"
On new tech:
"It's already happening. Robots that will go onto a road project and tie rebar on the road. It's very easy to do it that way because there's not a lot of obstructions or different environmental variables. We are seeing exoskeletons begin to be applied in certain heavy lift situations, in warehouse work and the military. And then also the we're seeing the rise of 3D printing. We've seen in other countries, the Chinese, the Scandinavians, the Germans, even some in America have been testing the technology. In China they built a 10 story building in a week with 3D printing. You're going to see that explode in the next three to five years."
Owner of Koerner Camera Systems
Koerner says Portland's film and television industry has shown remarkable resilience and has bounced back since the spring COVID shutdown. Shows currently shooting here include Shrill on Hulu, The Birch (a Facebook streaming show), and Netflix's Metal Lords, an upcoming teen music drama movie from the Game of Thrones duo, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.
The industry has figured out how to shoot scenes with minimal numbers of people on set to minimize the spread of coronavirus. Set decorators come in, then the lighting crew, then the camera operators — all giving each room to breathe.
"We were pretty much shut down for the first three months or so, but since August, it's been pretty busy. There's been a real pent up demand for production, and there's so much demand for content, whether it's commercial or long form, or promotional videos, it's been, it's been a busy late summer and fall."
Koerner says that COVID protocols in the film and video industry are so stringent that it's become another form of community testing, for both talent (actors) and crew.
"On these TV shows and movies, and we're doing a two right now, they're testing people that are closest to the red zone, four days a week, if not more. And it keeps them and their family safe as well. There's just less people on set. They come in in shifts. But it's still going on."
Co-owner and chef at Italian restaurant Piattino, 1140 N.W. Everett St.
"We put a tent over our tables in the street but it rained and it was structurally compromised, so we took it down. [In mid December they built another sold wood structure.] It worked out well for three days.
"Dining was good because people were coming. They were sitting outside until the rains started. People are going there and sitting out there. With indoor we can only have 18 people but outdoor tables hold 30.
"I work in data science and unless I see the data, I wouldn't believe that restaurants are a big vector, a big way of spreading the coronavirus."
"On Northwest 13th Avenue they blocked off the street and they have a giant tent. It's great. But around here people drive like it's NASCAR, like road racing. People want to dine out, even if it's cold. I'm cautiously optimistic Open Streets has been good. We're breaking even, we could keep breaking even. I think because so many restaurants would have died you'll have an advantage. We also now own Lovejoy Bakery, which is doing well too."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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