Following the effects of the pandemic on the local economy, Dr. Barbara Sirotnik, the director of the Institute of Applied Research and Policy Analysis and a statistics professor for the College of Business and Public Administration, discusses the background and solutions for local businesses affected by the quarantine protocols from COVID-19.
Q: How do you see this pandemic affecting our local economy?
A: Through the Institute of Applied Research, we do a lot of different research and one of them is a monthly economic forecast. More recently, I have been working closely with the Inland Empire Economic Partnership (I.E.E.P). They are trying to help businesses in the region. After the shutdown, we did surveys of businesses asking them if they have had layoffs due to COVID-19. Most of the organizations in the county are small businesses and the median is four weeks that they all they would be able to survive without getting any government assistance.
Q: Do you feel like this virus could have the same implications we had during the recession in 2008?
A: Short run, definitely worse, and part of it right now is that we have absolutely no idea when this is going to end. It all depends on whether they can find a vaccine and whether we can make get more tests to see who is infected and who is not. Until those happen, things have to stay shut down. The question is how will we help businesses get back on their feet once things start easing.
Q: Being that San Bernardino is not one of the wealthiest economies, has there been any word from our leaders about some kind of help to these small businesses in need of assistance?
A: Absolutely! There is no question. I.E.E.P is a two-county region working hard on that. They work with Chambers of Commerce and mayors of all major cities. Everyone is pulling together to try and make sure everything stays afloat.
Q: What can local businesses do right now in order to receive help?
A: There are a lot of resources to help find out how to apply for a business loan and for paycheck protection and all that. I think cities and other organizations are reaching out to small businesses to let them know what is available. The problem with that is that there is only a certain amount of money which is allocated and very often, it is the larger businesses that know how to do the applications quickly. It is very important that small businesses are aware of what they can access in terms of assistance. If they were to go to ieep.com, there is a whole list of resources they can go to for help. It’s really important to keep track of the SPA website, the I.E.E.P website, and the Economic Development Association website for each city and county for those small businesses to take advantage of any help whenever it comes up.
Q: Do you believe that our economy will follow a positive trend after this is all over?
A: My crystal ball says that when we went into the recession in late 2007, it was about getting in trouble slowly and all of a sudden, we took a big hit. Then we also came out relatively slowly. In this case, we crashed fast due to COVID-19. I’m hoping that once there is a spike and we start going down in terms of cases, that we start coming out faster. There are certain industries that won’t. Entertainment, for example, follows the surveys that I’m doing in which people are saying “I don’t plan on going to a theater for another year or so” because people don’t trust being in large groups. Restaurants will take a while to get back to normal as well as gyms due to large groups of people in one area.
Q: What do you think we can learn from this as a community and as individuals to our everyday?
A: For businesses, I think it will let people know how much we can do without traveling all over the place. People have been hesitant to allow telecommuting in many organizations they run all over the place for a ten-minute meeting with people. I think people are now realizing that business, or some business, can be done without having to be on the road, so hopefully, that will help the quality of life between air pollution and traffic on the streets. On a more personal level, I think in the short term, it is reminding people what really counts in life, the community, the family, the human touch (with family being so important), the caring for other people’s needs. I think that’s really changing and it’s waking people up, and personally I feel that they need to stay awake because that is definitely important.
Q: Being a person of research, do you feel that the media is portraying the numbers correctly as far as cases and how long this pandemic will last?
A: From what I can see the data is being released properly. The problem is that the tests take so long to process that it is unclear whether those numbers, in terms of percentages, are accurate. The media is doing the best they can. I wish there was better collaboration between the federal government and the state governments, and a better way of getting everybody what they need, in reference to the testing and whatnot, then I would be able to trust the data a little bit more.