Whatcom County’s economy has been hard hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic and local officials are developing new resources to help businesses overcome financial hardship and reopen safely.
“As the economy begins to reopen, protecting the health of our community is everyone’s top priority,” said Director of the Regional Economic Partnership at the Port of Bellingham Don Goldberg. “Building a strong and sustainable economy is absolutely dependent on our business community taking proactive steps to prevent a spike in COVID infections which might require another shut down.”
The Whatcom County Health Department and the Public Health Advisory Board are forming a Task Force to develop tools, best practices and guidance for employers to protect employees and customers from the risk of COVID-19.
“Anyone who has been to the grocery store recently has seen how business practices are changing” said Whatcom County Health Department Director Erika Lautenbach. “Social distancing, wearing cloth masks, keeping work spaces clean, and screening employees for symptoms will likely be the new normal until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed. The new Task Force being formed by Health Department and the Public Health Advisory Board will provide industry specific guidance to help our diverse business sectors reopen safely once allowed by the Governor’s order.”
An economic impact survey developed by the Regional Economic Partnership (REP) at the Port of Bellingham showed one in five workers in Whatcom County has lost their job as the result of COVID-19, with many more businesses planning to lay off workers if conditions don’t change. The REP will be leading efforts to help businesses re-open and rebuild while utilizing healthy and safe practices outlined by the Whatcom County Health Department.
“The need for relief and assistance is immense and it is critical to get direct cash transfers and grants to businesses in need as quickly as possible,” said Goldberg. “The Regional Economic Partnership is reaching out to partners at the state and federal level to access much needed resources and we are developing strategies to deliver these resources to businesses in need.”
The REP, with expertise in financing, planning, research, real estate and technology, will play a key role in helping local businesses overcome the magnitude of COVID-19 impacts. The REP is funded by the Washington State Department of Commerce, Whatcom County, the Port of Bellingham and the City of Bellingham.
“The Regional Economic Partnership will be working closely with our local business community to provide the resources they need to overcome the extreme financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 shutdown,” said Goldberg.
“As Washington begins easing restrictions under the ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order, the new Public Health Advisory Board Task Force will support local businesses, restaurants and community organizations to take steps to protect the health of their workers and their customers,” said Lautenbach.