The year 2020 likely is one many of us are ready to move on from, but, unfortunately, a lot of the damage that was caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic has seeped into our new year. With that said, it should not stop Kentuckians from having a hopeful outlook for what is to come. It is important to remember that prior to the halting interruption the pandemic caused, Kentucky had low unemployment rates, rising workforce participation, and growing economic opportunity. With vaccines being administered and the start of a new year, now is the time for planning a hopeful recovery for Kentucky, her people, and her businesses.
Before looking at a plan for recovery, it is important to understand the extent of the damage suffered by Kentucky’s economy. The Opportunity Insights Economic Tracker created by a team at Harvard University shows that Kentucky’s economy certainly is damaged but that we are already on the road to recovery. Kentucky’s employment rate was down only 5.1% going into November of 2020 which is substantially recovered from the low of 22.1% logged on April 20th, 2020. Further, Kentucky’s consumer spending had only decreased by 1.4% as of late December 2020 likely thanks to the first round of stimulus checks and other available government aid.
Unfortunately, Kentucky Small Businesses have not recovered as quickly. As seen on the graph pulled from the Harvard Economic Tracker, Kentucky Small Business Revenue was down a stark 20.5% over 2020, but that is after a recovery of over 20% from the low of 45.0% on March 30th. The decrease in economic activity for small businesses in Kentucky led to a 27.3% decrease in the number of small businesses open in the Commonwealth. Small businesses in high-income ZIP codes in Kentucky were affected slightly more than those in middle or low-income ZIP codes which shows that correcting the economic damage is a responsibility of each Kentuckian.
Clearly, Kentucky is hurting, and a lot needs to be done in order to truly get Kentucky back on track. A group of Kentucky’s business leaders made up of the presidents of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Greater Louisville, Inc., and Commerce Lexington issued a joint press release about their 2021 agenda to get Kentucky back on the road to economic prosperity. This press release came just in time for the Special Session of the Kentucky Legislature that began on January 5th, 2021.
The business leader’s press release pushes the Kentucky Legislature to make business relief and economic recovery the priority for the special sessions, especially because the Kentucky Legislature will be drafting its budget for the year. They suggest the relief takes the form of funding the Commonwealth’s depleted Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, providing limited and targeted liability protections for schools, businesses, and others, and investing in Kentucky’s infrastructure and education.
Unemployment Insurance rightfully takes priority in their agenda as it is crucial in keeping the people of Kentucky financially stable and able to engage in consumer spending. The group of business leaders hopes that the Kentucky Legislature will be able to continue to provide the vital employee protection of unemployment insurance, but also that they will be able to reform the process of administering it to lower the costs for the employers.
Limiting the liability schools and businesses might face from a COVID related accident or incident is a very hot political topic as corporate liability limitation was a key negotiation point regarding the second round of federal stimulus checks. Limiting businesses’ and schools’ liability for COVID related injuries will save them the costs of litigation of those cases, but it also encourages sub-standard implementation of COVID safety protocol and removes remedy from a person who may have been injured by such a businesses’ or school’s sub-standard implementation of those protocols. The group of business leaders seems to be urging the legislature to find the right balance that will prevent frivolous suits but still allow recovery where necessary.
Finally, business leaders want investments in Kentucky’s infrastructure and education. According to the press release, Kentucky is quickly becoming a logistics hub for the United States. That is ground that cannot be lost as it is crucial for the future of Kentucky as we come out of this pandemic. Specifically, Kentucky’s roadways and bridges must continue to be maintained so our clout as a logistics hub is not hurt by one of the fundamentals of logistics – transportation. Further, investing in high-speed broadband internet for all Kentuckians will keep the state from falling behind as remote work and learning are becoming more and more intertwined with the Post-COVID economy. Education and workforce development at all levels also must remain a priority for investments because without an educated, working population Kentucky’s businesses will not be able to successfully create jobs for Kentuckians.
The pandemic and 2020 rocked all Kentuckians, certainly some worse than others, but as the data shows, we all are ultimately living in the same economy. The press release from Kentucky’s business leaders gives reason for the hope that things are getting better, but it also reveals the grim reality of how much work there is to be done to get there. It seems that Kentucky must stay true to itself by protecting its people and businesses from unnecessary costs and hardships by ensuring that Unemployment Insurance is available and continuing to invest in the areas that had Kentucky on the path of growth prior to the pandemic.