Innovation helps us recover from Covid-19 shutdown, but we can’t stop there

As Chillicothe and Ross County continues to re-open, we must recognize that there’s no blueprint for what’s happening right now.

There are very few people who can remember when a community was shut down for weeks on end, so searching for data that helps guide our decisions is futile. Likewise, if we base much of what we do in the weeks and months ahead on thoughts and feelings, we might be doing the wrong things.

So, the answer is to try new ideas, analyze their impact, and make necessary changes. By trying lots of things and experimenting, we’ll find the short-term solutions that will make the most significant difference for our small businesses.

I’ve been very impressed with how our businesses have responded. They genuinely get that consumer confidence is the key to revitalizing our move toward a vibrant, thriving city and county.

First, many of them took a prudent approach to re-opening. Some dove right in, working hard to create the protocols that put the safety of customers and employees first and allowing them to open on the re-open date for their business. Others, however, took some time to plan and execute their approach. Mostly, they use a robust online presence that allows for modest sales. At the same time, they found solutions for how to maintain social distancing, what hours to be open, whether to accept cash, and other vital decisions to return to regular business.

One of those businesses, Paper City Coffee, used data to drive the decisions that weren’t mandated by the state. For example, they knew that most of their sales after 3 p.m. were to groups (study groups, organization meetings, etc.), which weren’t allowed to meet in groups over 10. Armed with that information, they decided to close at 3 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. That decision, too, was based on the numbers. By opening 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and using a new digital approach, the coffee shop and mentoring program started the measured process of re-opening.

Our businesses are talking to each other. From the beginning, many of them took notes and called to ask questions of each other. I know of at least three to four businesses – usually competitors – who solicited advice and worked together to find solutions to make money while the shutdown closed their doors. As their re-open dates approached, they shared notes regularly to help everyone get back to work at quickly as possible.

For example, I was part of a group that toured Kenworth to learn about how they would execute the protocols that would allow them to begin making trucks again. They started slowly with a low build rate to enable them to make sure the protocols they had in place would be followed, made necessary changes, and intend to ramp up production as they can safely do so. They also shared a Safe Work Handbook for their employees, which we used as a basis for the Chamber’s Safe Work Handbook. We’ve shared our handbook with other employers as they developed their re-open policies and procedures.

Not only are they talking to each other, but they’re talking to their customers. Videos to explain how the business was taking the precautions necessary to stay safe were common on social media. Giveaways and other incentives to longtime customers. After seven weeks of staying mostly at home and away from large groups, many customers were anxious to visit their favorite restaurant, watering hole, or store, which was understandable. Those business owners engaged those customers that came back early, as well as seeking out those who stayed away. Both sets of people are valuable because communication allows everyone to know what’s going on and potentially how things will change.

Innovation helps us recover from the shutdown, but we can’t stop there. Ideas include: Creating outdoor dining to allow restaurants to survive, finding creative ways to get more disinfecting solutions and PPE to keep retail shops open, and other solutions need all our input to help our businesses recover and continue toward a vibrant future.