A Coronavirus Business Roundtable

Featuring Bill Greene, PGA CEO

Heading into May, a light was perceptible at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, but business across the globe will remember the 2020 pandemic for the number it did on the global economy.

AMP reached out to business leaders across the state representing a spectrum of industries to ask how the economic shutdown has affected them and what their “new normal” could look like. Heading into May, a light was perceptible at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. But business across the globe will remember the 2020 pandemic for the number it did on the global economy. AMP reached out to business leaders across the state representing a spectrum of industries to ask how the economic shutdown has affected them and what their “new normal” could look like.

Architecture

Glen Woodruff, Vice President and Director of Business Development, WD&D Architects, Little Rock

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

With no small effort, we have sent the majority of our staff home to work. Our business requires significant computer power to run the programs we use for designing buildings. Most don’t have home computers and monitors that make that type of work possible. While productivity may not be at its peak, we are all working. Our current projects include hospitals, clinics, police and fire stations. We are also working on school projects. They are closed today, but we believe they will be open this fall so we are making progress. We feel it is important to continue the work of the firm.

What does the new normal look like for you?

We expect to phase our people back into the office. We will likely bring half our staff back into the office for a few days a week, the other half on the remaining days. This will allow us to keep proper distance. Most of our meetings with necessary vendors and our clients are meetings that we can conduct via Zoom or similar programs. For now, that continues to meet the needs of our clients. Pressing on!


Creative Services

Sharon Vogelpohl, Principal/President, Mangan Holcomb Partners/Team SI, Little Rock

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

Fortunately, being in the business we are in, we are crisis managers by profession, so we are doing well. I believe MHP/SI was among the first Arkansas businesses to go totally virtual. We’ve invested in some remarkable tools we use year-round for our flexible work scenarios and multiple locations that were easily scaled to go virtual across the companies. Clients have been amazing and supportive, and work is flowing. We have been focused on counseling clients in both messaging and channel strategy to stay relevant and effective during this unprecedented time. I’m also extremely proud of our team’s desire to step up to help during the crisis. Shortly on the heels of the pandemic, we partnered with the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau to launch the “Uplift Arkansas” website in support of our fellow small business interests in Arkansas. That has been extremely well received and is growing with new partnerships being announced with the Arkansas Department of Agriculture for Farmers Markets and pro bono mental-health resources on demand.

What does the new normal look like for your business and industry once this is over?

I have always joked that there is no “normal” in the agency business. If you’re doing your job right and staying ahead of trends and innovating, you never have the same day twice. We will continue with our organized chaos and do our best to continue to serve our clients at the highest level.


Paul Strack, President, CustomXM, North Little Rock

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

Like so many businesses, sales revenues have taken a drastic decline since all this began. The print industry has taken quite a few hits over the years as online technology has replaced print on paper. Now with a near shutdown of the economy, this feels like it cuts even deeper. For the first time in our 54-year history, we’ve had to significantly reduce hours or layoff several employees at one time. Many marketing campaigns related to conventions, events and conferences have been postponed or cancelled. During this time, we’ve had to be more creative and try to pivot more quickly than ever. Having been a B2B operation, now we are quickly becoming more entrenched in B2C products. Offering direct-to-consumer postcard packages, social distancing kits, products for those doing at-home workouts and more recently, even offering customized cloth face masks. We are looking for creative ways to continue to generate revenue until our core business picks up again.

What does the new normal look like for you?

If we weren’t already comfortable with using on-line technology for order creation and fulfillment, this will definitely be the norm going forward. Our product mix may encompass more products for the consumer as opposed to just the commercial entity. In the short term, I think we will see more of a demand for printed materials encouraging the use of social distancing and hand sanitization. Since work-from-home will be more commonplace, I think that will be a good opportunity to take more advantage of direct-mail campaigns. Restaurants, who have been hit so hard by this pandemic, may benefit from direct mail more than ever before. Additionally, they may look at disposable menus and other print-related items to assist them as the country slowly is able to once again “go out to eat.” We will also see an increase in marketing campaigns that continue to combine online and offline (print) media. The streamlining of our operations will continue as we become more reliant on our technology to help achieve our goals. However, I still believe that a continued dedication to creativity, quality, and rapid responsiveness to client’s needs will continue to be the required normal for success.


Construction

Phil Jones, Business Development Officer, C.R. Crawford Construction, Fayetteville

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

Thankfully, due to the fiscally conservative manner with which the C.R. Crawford Construction ownership manages the company, we tend to stay well positioned for any events which could disrupt our industry. We certainly were not expecting anything like a global pandemic to occur but even in this, our company remains strong, both financially and in the commitment of our team members to press on and continue to take care of our clients’ needs.

We have seen only one or two of the projects in which we were engaged or were pursuing be delayed or postponed until the national economy returns to some level of normalcy. We are, however, actively staying in contact with clients and potential clients so that we are prepared to respond to any dramatic changes in the demand for construction services. Importantly for our current projects, we have not experienced any significant interruptions in our supply chain of construction materials and equipment, so we fully expect to successfully complete the projects on which we are currently working on schedule.

What does the new normal look like for you?

A disruption always provides new opportunities for learning and growth. As a company, I think we have developed a greater appreciation for the commitment of each member of the C.R. Crawford team, and I expect that appreciation to remain with us in whatever normal looks like after we emerge from this moment.

As for our industry, there will be new opportunities as those companies which have large office spaces rethink how employees are deployed within those spaces. A desire to provide some distance while still maintaining a collaborative culture will result in some reconfiguration of existing offices, and will also inform how new offices are designed and constructed. It is also reasonable to believe there will be new opportunities in health care construction, once the current extreme demands on hospitals have subsided and the health care industry returns to some semblance of normalcy. There is no doubt that health care professionals are developing new ways to deliver urgent care in response to this pandemic, and the lessons learned now will likely result in renovations to existing healthcare facilities.


Greg Williams, CEO, Nabholz, Conway

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

Fortunately, the pandemic has not impacted the construction industry as much as it has negatively impacted many other sectors of the economy. The governors of the states in which we work have deemed construction an “essential activity,” and wisely so. When construction halts, it affects every part of the economy – the materials supply chain, the transportation industry, etc. — and pushes back project schedules, which will affect our clients when they return to business as usual. We have had customers postpone work, which ultimately may cause a slowdown depending on when we get back to “normal,” but of course, our clients know best when it comes to protecting their work and their people. Thankfully, we’ve been able to keep our team members working and safe by implementing distancing practices and additional disinfecting and cleaning according to CDC standards.

What does the new normal look like for you?

At Nabholz, we think the new normal will include continued, heightened efforts regarding cleaning and disinfecting, not only for our team and facilities but for our job sites and customers. Also, our portfolio of projects usually contains a significant amount of work for health-care providers. It remains to be seen what the lasting impact of all of this will mean for clinics and hospitals in terms of healthcare construction.


Education

Dr. Debbie Jones, Superintendent, Bentonville Schools

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

Our employees have learned to transform their teaching delivery method to digital delivery overnight. Digital, previously used as a supplemental tool, now is our lifeline to students and families. We have once again learned the power of home visits for those families we can’t seem to connect through digital.

We have learned that our PLC (professional learning communities) provide the professional, social and mental-health support teachers need on an ongoing basis. Teachers voluntarily dedicate time to meet together in virtual PLC meetings.

We recognize that while we have an affluent community, not everyone is affluent. We have had to be mindful of those living in poverty. We expanded services to feed across our community and provide home delivery. Our wifi has been expanded to provide connectivity to not only our staff and students but the community.

Our industry now recognizes and appreciates the value of strategic planning and implementation because we see across the nation so many districts ending the school year or using paper packets.

What does the new normal look like for you?

Outside-the-box thinking is the new norm. While electronic communication may be our easiest and first line of communication, we have a renewed understanding of the power of face-to-face interaction. We will have a renewed focus on people and grace.

While face-to-face is still the most successful delivery method for most students, digital has opened up access for parents to the school. Our teachers’ instruction and interactions are basically streamed to their living rooms, like Netflix. Parents have a newfound love of our teachers. They see them teaching alongside their dog or husband who helps present a lesson. It makes our teachers human and deeply loved by our families.

While our focus has been on student academic growth, we have a real curiosity and drive to see the growth and loss that our students may have when they return. Our RTI or intervention systems are even more critical to our success. A focus on competency over grades is the new reality.


Dr. Chuck Welch, President, Arkansas State University System

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

The six institutions in the Arkansas State University System moved rapidly to take steps to protect the health of our students and employees while moving all classes to an online delivery format. We, and virtually everyone in higher education across the country, also had to make the difficult decisions to dispense with collegiate athletics, special events such as commencement and other activities that enhance student experiences on campus.

Arkansas State University has the state’s largest enrollment of online students, so we were better prepared than most institutions across the country for the transition to online delivery. Nonetheless, our traditional faculty members and our students have done an extraordinary job of adjusting to alternative delivery of classes.

Additionally, we are addressing the financial ramifications. These include reductions in state revenue for both FY2020 and FY2021, lost revenue from room and board, and a likely reduction in both summer and fall enrollment and tuition revenue for the rest of the year. Because of the financial hardships our students and families face, we’re recommending to our board of trustees that we not increase tuition and fees this fall. This will force us to delay capital and deferred maintenance expenditures and drastically reduce operating expenses while maintaining the commitment to our educational mission.

What does the new normal look like for you?

Many aspects of the ASU System’s traditional higher-education activities will be different in the coming months. Prospective student tours and new student orientation will be conducted with social distancing in mind, and participation in commencement ceremonies will be delayed. Summer camps and activities on our campuses have been cancelled, and we are still unsure of exactly how the fall semester will look.

It’s still unclear how a recession induced by a pandemic crisis will impact student enrollment decisions. We are actively working to develop multiple contingency scenarios so we are fully prepared for whatever the future holds. Whether we use traditional classroom teaching or continue online delivery, our faculty will be even better prepared to ensure quality instruction and student success.

ASU System institutions have developed and maintained reserve funds to help ensure our financial stability. Nonetheless, we will continue our efforts to operate as efficiently as possible and keep quality higher education affordable.

This pandemic experience ultimately will remind us all how much we value the benefits of collegiate relationships and activities on our campuses that can’t easily be replaced.


Engineering

Brock Hoskins, President and CEO, Garver, North Little Rock

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

We were fortunate to be able to maintain business continuity by adopting a predominately remote workforce at the onset of the crisis. We quickly transitioned more than 90 percent of our people to remote work and leveraged available technology to facilitate virtual meetings, presentations and client collaboration. In addition to safety, we placed a high priority on communication and created resources to keep employees throughout our multi-state footprint connected and engaged.

What does the new normal look like for you?

Despite the obvious challenges presented by the situation, addressing obstacles forced us to focus on resiliency and become even more agile as a firm. One unexpected outcome is that we may have a slightly larger percentage of our people working remotely going forward. In the course of assisting our clients with short-term technology solutions, it’s possible some of those could remain, like hosting more public meetings in a virtual format.


Finance

Rush Deacon, CEO, Arkansas Capital Corp., Little Rock

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

At Arkansas Capital Corporation, it hasn’t changed what we do, but it has profoundly impacted how much we do and how we do it. ACC has been an approved SBA lender for three decades now, so the so-called PPP loan program has had us running in overdrive recently. We repurposed almost our entire office (which isn’t terribly large) to process PPP loans, and the team has been working into the night and through weekends to handle the tsunami of applications. In only two weeks, we processed five times the dollar volume and almost 50 times the number of loans that we would normally process in an entire year.

What does the new normal look like for you?

We are far from reaching normalcy, so “the new normal” is simply a prediction by us all. Certainly, business being conducted digitally and in virtual settings is a given, even in a “post-COVID” world. We’ve been trending in that direction anyway, but our separated universe has accelerated that move and forced us to get more comfortable with it – or else.


Gary Head, Chairman/CEO
Signature Bank of Arkansas, Fayetteville

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

At our bank, we see that people are scared. A lot of people have had to make difficult choices. Those poor guys in the restaurant business have gotten killed. It’s devastating. This whole deal has been an eye opener. It’s something we had no experience with. We’ve been able so far to take care of folks remotely, but it remains to be seen if we see a severe drop-off in customer-service skills in the industry after this.

What does the new normal look like for you?

We were eventually going there anyway, but I think we’ll see an enormous spur of folks start to shop and do other things remotely.


Healthcare

Bill Greene, CEO, Premier Gastroenterology Associates

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

The biggest impact for Premier has been how we take care of our patients. Our No. 1 goal throughout has been caring for our patients, many of whom have chronic conditions that can be painful and debilitating. At PGA, closing the doors, even for a short period of time, was never a consideration. We immediately implemented a highly efficient telehealth program with all of our physicians participating, and 100 percent of our staff remained on duty to field patient calls and concerns. We also implemented the most stringent patient protection protocols in the state, which enabled urgent patients to come in and see their doctor if they were in pain or distress. This provided immediate care for our patients and saved them from having to go to a hospital emergency Room, which provided relief for the already overburdened local hospitals.

What does the new normal look like for you?

The health crisis has forced us to learn new skills, such as virtual medicine, which could make care better, more convenient and more affordable after the pandemic ends. This creates an efficiency of effort that allows patients in Arkansas a new option for medical attention. In addition, when we consider the “new normal” of the medical practice, we realize the requirement for efficiently managing scarce resources such as personal protection equipment. This is a critical skill because our ability to deliver care could be restricted by a shortage of masks or gloves.


Transportation

Alex English, Public Relations and Marketing Specialist, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA), Highfill

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

The aviation industry is facing a historical decline in flights and passengers due to the COVID-19 crisis. Our final numbers from March 2020 show a 52-percent decrease in passengers at XNA, and we are projecting an even greater decline in April and May. XNA was allocated $8.2 million in federal relief funds from the Federal Aviation Administration from the CARES Act, and these funds will aid airport operations — this includes payroll, routine operating costs, utilities, maintenance and debt service. Our entire XNA staff has remained employed during this time, and XNA is fully operational.

What does the new normal look like for you?

I can’t speak definitively to what exact changes are in store for XNA once this crisis has passed, but we are operating in a manner so that when things are resolved, we will be ready to hit the ground running.


Shane Carter, Director of Public Affairs and Governmental Relations, Clinton National Airport (LIT), Little Rock

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

The pandemic has significantly impacted the aviation industry. Most airports, including the Clinton National Airport, are seeing a 95-percent decrease in their normal passenger traffic. The Clinton National Airport normally has between 2,500 and 3,000 passengers daily. In March, there were probably only 150 to 200 passengers each day. Also, the airport has about 15 outbound flights a day, whereas it normally has 45 flights. Because of the decrease in traveling, the airport is experiencing a decline in revenue. Parking is down by 95 percent, and most restaurants and retail outlets are closed. We expect to see a shortfall in revenue for a few months. However, the airport was allocated $25.1 million from the CARES Act to continue operations. We also did not have any mandatory furloughs or layoffs.

What does the new normal look like for you?

At this point, we don’t have enough information to answer this question. We are monitoring the financial impact of the CARES Act and how long the pandemic is expected to last. It may take a little longer for the airport to get back to normal traffic since 65 percent of it is leisure, but we are working hard to safely and efficiently get there.


Bryan Day, Executive Director, Little Rock Port Authority

How has your business/industry been impacted by the pandemic?

The industries at the port have been impacted by the pandemic. In some cases, business has improved for industry. For example, food processors and the industries that support them are doing very well. Some industries are struggling because of a slowdown in business and because of efforts to protect employees that result in lower levels of production. One factor that has gotten lost in the pandemic conversation is the record low oil prices the world is experiencing. When oil drops to these current prices, it has a negative impact on manufacturing in general. This, too, has impacted several industries at the port.

What does the new normal look like for you?

We are still defining the new normal. We have very few face-to-face meetings and are relying on technology to have board meetings and address business. Staff is working remotely when possible, and we are limiting access to the building. We are still serving our customers but being more aware in how we deliver services.

America is resilient, and I am confident that the port and our industry partners will learn and grow from this experience. I believe we will learn how to become more efficient in our services and programs and that we will see new opportunities arise as the pandemic ends.

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By: Arkansas Money and Politics