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Three New Realities of the COVID Decade



The COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the way our world works. COVID-19 sickened an estimated 607 million people and claimed the lives of an estimated 6.4 million, an irreversible impact on global society. On top of these metrics, the pandemic also forced everyone to reevaluate how we view and experience health and wellbeing, community, and work. As our world continues to transition out of a global lockdown and ease into “normal” life again, we have to ask, what did the pandemic reveal?


For one, the pandemic forced us to question what it means to be physically and mentally healthy when we have limited access to social events, civic engagement opportunities, and the simple pleasures of daily life. Furthermore, as we ease out of a global lockdown, we are tasked with considering what we learned when children couldn’t participate in plays and recitals, when we couldn’t enjoy a Thursday night at the movies, and when our favorite restaurants were closed. Finally, after an extended work-from-home period, many employees decided that their work/life balance was a priority and that their employers were not meeting work-from-home demands.


These are some of the new realities of the COVID-19 decade. Still, communities, organizations, and other entities across the country are working to transition out of the pandemic while taking with them the lessons learned.


Health and Wellbeing

As of September 14, 2022, the United States has recorded more than 94 million cases of COVID-19, and more than one million people nationally have died from the disease. The physical impacts of COVID-19 are easily identifiable: fever or chills, the new loss of taste and/or smell, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and – in some cases – loss of life. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused other negative impacts: job losses or loss of income, social isolation, widespread fear surrounding catching the virus, and significant increases in mental health concerns.


Negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic reveal the need to capture the human impacts of the pandemic and develop plans to address health improvement for the future.


A July 2020 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53% of U.S. adults had experienced negative impacts on their mental health due to COVID-19 – a 39% increase since May 2020. The pandemic has revealed the need for a more holistic approach to health and wellbeing in continued recovery efforts across the nation.


As such, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) developed a Wellbeing Framework to more effectively capture the human impacts of the pandemic. Key dimensions of the Wellbeing Framework include income, job quality, housing, skills, safety, life-work balance, environment quality, civil engagement, social connections, and healthy being.


Large institutions have become increasingly aware of the importance of promoting their stakeholder’s health and wellbeing, including the Allegheny County Health Department’s Community Health Assessment (CHA) and Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). As part of their public health re-accreditation, the Allegheny County Health Department contracted with Fourth Economy to facilitate community engagement sessions to capture community sentiments surrounding family and child health, community health, chronic disease and prevention, and the environment. With the help of Fourth Economy, the health department will publish the Community Health Improvement Plan, which combines first-person feedback from community engagement sessions and quantitative data from Fourth Economy. The Community Health Improvement Plan will serve as a collaborative guide for health improvement for the next 3-5 years.


Communities, Culture, and Belonging

Fourth Economy clients often want to ensure a sense of community during the economic and community development planning process. According to the World Bank initiative Collaboration for Development, a sense of community is “a key characteristic of successful communities, successful meaning active, engaged communities that people want to visit, and where members contribute regularly.” The components that foster a sense of community also enhance general community well-being: safety, civil engagement, environment quality, and social connections.


During the pandemic, people congregated to parks and other areas for outdoor recreation to maintain a sense of community while social distancing.


The importance of connecting with others became abundantly clear when we could no longer safely congregate and, in efforts to continue connecting with our communities, turned to social distancing, virtual platforms, and outdoor spaces. A Penn State study found that almost half of US adults participated in outdoor recreation at least once a month during the pandemic and likely 1 in 5 started their participation during the pandemic. Beyond offering parks and other areas for outdoor recreation, another opportunity to promote a sense of community and create a gathering place is through public art, which is a key vehicle for promoting pro-sociality and has added nearly $900 billion to the national GDP in 2020.


Fourth Economy worked with the York County Economic Alliance and the Cultural Alliance of York County throughout the pandemic to map York County’s arts/cultural and outdoor/recreation assets. Using quantitative data and 1-1 interviews with local business owners, 900 existing relationships between over 700 arts/cultural and outdoor/recreation assets within York County were discovered and mapped. See the interactive ecosystem map here.


Fourth Economy is also actively working with the Charlotte, NC, and Gwinnett County, GA, communities to develop the Charlotte Arts and Culture Master plan and the Gwinnett County Creative Economy Master plan, which will be completed by the end of 2022. These plans signify a shift within local, county, and state governments: the time is now to build community, place, and vibrancy. Arts and culture are just manifestations of this reality.


Knowledge, Employment, and Skills

Fourth Economy’s clients have long since recognized the value of a workforce capable of meeting the needs of today’s employers and future employers. The loss of over 22 million jobs between February and April 2022 urged communities across the country to scale workforce development programs and keep pace with the accelerated rate of digital transformation and expansion caused by the pandemic. An estimated 1 in 3 establishments increased access to remote work for some or all employees during the pandemic. Of course, this rapid digital transformation demonstrated the need for increased access to broadband for businesses, workers, and students worldwide.


Federal efforts to increase broadband access include the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will invest $65 billion into fast and reliable broadband infrastructure, affordability, and adoption and help policymakers address high-speed internet access. Other federal and state efforts to increase access to high-speed internet include the use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to increase funding for or establish new broadband programs, the use of Capital Projects Fund dollars to increase high-speed internet access in “multi-purpose community facilities”, and the use of State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund dollars, which can be used towards “necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.”


An influx in access to remote work for professionals and students worldwide, made clear the need for increased access to broadband.


With these trends looming, municipal and state governments have had to retool their economic development strategies to meet modern realities. Whether a town looking to rebrand itself as a destination for remote work with marketing and incentives, a city looking to grow its healthcare sector, or a company trying to understand where its ideal workers will physically live in the next 10-25 years, all sorts of influential entities are facing unique questions that require thorough decision-making processes.


Fourth Economy has been lucky to aid problem-solvers with the above questions and more in the past 2+ years of our COVID livelihood. As the circumstances and data change, more planning must remain ahead in creating a strong workforce and industry base.


The COVID-19 pandemic revealed just how multi-dimensional health and wellbeing are. As we transition out of the pandemic, people worldwide continue to recognize the importance of comprehensive and preventive health strategies. The pandemic also forced us to consider cultural and outdoor assets' importance to our communities. National trends showcased how so many Americans turned to the outdoors in the wake of social distancing guidelines and lockdown. Finally, COVID-19 forced employers and employees to reevaluate what a life/work balance should look like, and employees have decided that life/work balance is paramount.


 

Interested in discussing how you can work to build out tailored strategies surrounding health, community, culture, and workforce in your community? Shoot us a message today to set up a meeting. [email protected].

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