Economic Baby Steps
By John Meng, Publisher/Editor
For the past five weeks, the Texas economy, and indeed every Texan, has been on a high-speed collision course, racing toward another Great Depression. I didn’t live through the first one. But I know enough about history and seen enough of those thought-provoking, black-and-white photos from those days to know I’m happier living in a robust economy with record-setting GDP, skyrocketing stock market and virtually no unemployment. Can we go back to December and January, please?
Governor Gregg Abbott is trying to do just that.
On Friday, Abbott introduced the first steps of his ‘re-open Texas’ initiative and there are aspects to the plan that offer a glimmer of hope.
I understand our government officials in Austin (as well as Washington D.C. and Jackson County) need to take baby steps. We all need the economy working again. We need to be working again. But revving up the economic engine prematurely and lifting all social distancing guidelines could set us up for a rude rebound of the coronavirus. And, I think everyone in Jackson County is already virus-weary. None of us need or want a “CoVid Round 2.”
However, I admit to being a little disappointed in the Governor’s ‘phase one’ plan. I had hoped some consideration would have been given to specific conditions in the community and geography.
The current coronavirus hot spots in Texas are the major metropolitan areas. These areas are densely populated with people living on top of people on top of people. When you live in a city of five million people, you can’t do much without it impacting someone around you.
Comparing Houston or Dallas to Jackson County is like comparing apples to oranges. For example, our population is 0.0028 percent of that of Houston. We are a rural, agricultural-based community with many of us living in isolated areas. We don’t have skyscrapers, public mass transit systems, large event venues accommodating 50,000-plus attendees, and we don’t have tens of thousands of people mingling together and rubbing elbows in downtown every day.
Just like most rural communities, Jackson County does not have the same socio-economic landscape as mega-metropolitan areas, nor does it have the same problems and same business diversity. If 20 businesses close and 1,000 people lose their jobs, a big city would not bat an eyelash. But those numbers could significantly harm a small-town economy.
Phase one of Abbott’s plan paints the state with a broad brush. Jackson County is to follow the same guidelines and requirements of every other city and county regardless of population density and infection rates.
In Jackson County, we know we’re different than Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. We know our needs are different and our problems are different.
Guidelines created with a broad brush stroke may be the only action possible by the Governor right now. But I think rural communities, like Jackson County, which have zero cases of the coronavirus, could benefit more with a little freedom given to local officials to adjust the guidelines.
Jackson County is not Houston, and I don’t think guidelines written for a mega-metropolitan area with an annual economy of $450 billion can be fairly implemented in a rural community with far less economic diversity.
Nevertheless, let’s embrace the Governor’s plan. It’s movement in the right direction. But let’s also think outside of the box about ways to help Jackson County businesses and get our economy going again.
If we’re going to open the economy and return to normalcy, we need to take those first steps, just as Abbott said.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
I’m proud of Texas for taking the first step toward economic recovery, even though it’s a baby step. I pray Jackson County takes those same steps and more. We can do the impossible.
Let’s get back to work!