Pandemic & Pivot: How can Tallahassee industries manage a big pivot?


I was honored that Leadership Tallahassee recently asked me to lead a webinar for their “Tallahassee Leads Here” webinar series. This series is a great example of Leadership Tallahassee’s important role in our community. The focus on anticipating and meeting challenges for the community is one of the things I loved most about my LT33 experience. For Part I: Five Questions to Ask Before Managing a Big Pivot, please click here.  We spent the second part of the webinar in breakout groups, putting ourselves in the shoes of some of Tallahassee’s biggest industries. Below we share some facts and figures that relate to answering these questions. Of course, it’s impossible to solve the community’s toughest questions in about eight minutes, but we enjoyed the discourse!    


Since COVID-19 infections and death rates have varied greatly at the local level, it is the local governments who will have the most first-hand knowledge of how best to respond to the needs of their citizens. As the capital of Florida, Tallahassee has significant influence over the local economy and one of the country’s largest state economies. Over the coming months, the government has a huge task in front of it: walking the tightrope between public health/safety and economic considerations. For Tallahassee, this is true on both a local and state level. How the government operates will change too, as it must adhere and adapt to social distancing mandates. Government agencies, in particular judicial systems, have been very slow to move to digital solutions, but the current situation will force their hands. The areas that are able to move quickly will fare better than those who lag behind 


Some of the biggest “what if” questions in the country surround education. And with two large universities and a very prominent two-year college, Tallahassee should be particularly keen to answer this question. According to an economic impact report developed by Florida State University, in the fiscal year 2014-15, FSU generated $6.01 billion of direct revenue or expense, with $9.94 billion worth of industry output (revenue/sales), and 94,160 jobs. In 2018 dollars, this translates to $6.34 billion of direct revenue or expense, and $10.5 billion worth of industry output. Furthermore, the report states that revenue generated by FSU created an additional $3.82 billion of labor income, $1.78 billion of property income, and $501.8 million in business taxes. In 2018 dollars, this translates to over $4 billion of labor income. Furthermore, what is the impact for parents and students in lower, middle, and high schools in the area if schools are limited? How will that impact the parents’ ability to work or the child’s ability to learn? One idea that came out of the breakout groups was going to hybrid solutions. For higher education, large lectures could be virtual and in-person groups reserved for smaller groups and class sizes. In elementary education, cafeterias may go by the wayside and classrooms rearranged to create more space. Taking temperatures may become commonplace as well. One opinion that was widely shared among parents in the group: the children need school! But how that looks will need careful thought and consideration.  


According to a 2017 economic report by the Florida Hospital Association, healthcare contributes over $5 billion to the Tallahassee economy. But that has come to a screeching halt over the past several months as healthcare facilities prepared to be overwhelmed with COVID-19. However, with only 306 positive cases of COVID-19 as of May 20, Tallahassee had less than 1% of cases in Florida. Given the low impact that it has had on the local community (so far), the healthcare system has been far from overwhelmed; in fact, it has been the opposite. Elective procedures should continue to be scheduled and completed, not only for the benefit of the patient but also to infuse some much-needed capital into healthcare facilities. However, there may be some precautions borne of the COVID era that may remain, including telehealth appointments when possible, and the ability to wait in a vehicle instead of a waiting room to avoid contamination. These could also help stop the spread of other contagious viruses, including the flu.  


Within the manufacturing and production sectors, there are many examples of pivoting quickly, such as changing production from whisky to hand sanitizer or beginning to make masks. Construction in Florida has been able to take advantage of the current conditions to make significant headway on projects. At a recent press conference to celebrate the opening of new highway ramps on Interstate 4 interchange, Governor DeSantis shared that more than 40 projects were accelerated, saving more than 650 total contract days to take advantage of lighter traffic. In fact, the very ramps he was celebrating being opened came “more than three months ahead of schedule.” As the manufacturing sector thinks about its own pivots, it should take note of the FSU Innovation Hub’s slogan – “empathize, ideate, build.” Currently, the HUB is using a 3D printer to make face shields. Says Emily Pritchard, a research faculty member with the College of Medicine and one of the organizers of the project, “We first empathize with the doctors and the patients and find out what they need and how we can better do that. Then, we ideate. How do we use the supplies we have, the tools we have and the people we have to build a solution that will make an impact in our community?”  


In a December 2019 article, Tallahassee Reports shared the news that tourism in Leon County had a record-breaking $1 billion economic impact on the Leon county economy in fiscal year 2019, a 14% increase over 2018. With festivals, concerts and sporting events on hold or cancelled for the foreseeable future, what does this mean for the once-booming service industry? Finding ways to make “experiences” out of what were once mass gatherings, such as FSU football, may be one way to creatively pivot in the new normal. Silent disco is a good illustration of this type of thinking. In addition, keeping some of the services introduced during the pandemic, such as bulk deliveries to communities surrounding Tallahassee for restaurants and keyless entry and hands-free check-in for hotels, may remain.  

While we certainly didn’t solve any of these questions in eight minutes, it did help us realize that (1) we are all impacted either directly or indirectly by these sectors; therefore, (2) we must think creatively about ways for them to continue to flourish and make our area one of the best. It is also easy in these situations to turn inward and focus only on our own problems and hardships. Take a lesson from Phil Connors in Groundhog Day and focus on improving the lives of others, and maybe the monotony and drudgery we have all been facing may end sooner than we think!  

 I’d love to hear what ideas you have as well. Please share them in the comments. 


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