WT Business Beat

By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

COVID-19's impact will far outlast the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is creating an atmosphere of worry and concern across multiple sectors of the market. Work life and home life are being disrupted in ways we couldn’t have imagined before.

It’s hard to see past the next few weeks much less think about the long term, but I can’t help but wonder how the pandemic will change life, both personal and professional. Will sports and concert venues still sell out? Will people still crowd the beaches?

Closer to my WT roots, will government spending priorities change beyond the huge stimulus bill? We’ve all seemingly been caught flat-footed by the coronavirus. Why did that happen? Will we do anything to stop this from happening again? What will that look like?

Our politics have become so divisive that I have my doubts whether a process led by either party will have much impact. My hope is that some sort of commission is created to examine where things went wrong, much as the 9/11 Commission.

Much like before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, red flags were raised before the coronavirus hit U.S. soil. So where was the disconnect between those with the information on the danger and those who could take action? Was this a process problem? Culture?

A commission might be the way at getting at facts and not getting mired in finger pointing and politics.

It is also important to note that the 9/11 Commission wasn’t established until 14 months after the terrorist attacks. The final report didn’t come out for nearly another two years, so a commission will likely take a more of a long term view.

We can’t wait that long. We’ll see changes over the next few months and then more changes over the next two years.

The coronavirus has exposed weaknesses in our public health system and it has raised questions about how economically vulnerable we are. Answering those questions will be hard and complex.

Right now, companies are in survival mode. While the work of government continues, the work is being done in new and different ways. Large number of contractor personnel are working remotely, just as many of their government customers. Will this change the long term relationship? Will it create new business models?

Once the dust settles, we’ll likely see some different short-term priorities coming out of Congress as it works on fiscal year 2021 appropriations.

With the 2022 budget proposal will be the first budget where real long term priorities and solutions will likely emerge. Will defense spending get scaled back in favor of domestic health care spending? How will we address the shortcomings that have been exposed in our health care system?

Even more long-term, how will we pay for this huge stimulus package on top of what was already a massive debt load? If we go into a recession, what happens with the budget and spending then?

At the end of Senior Staff Writer Ross Wilkers’ Project 38 podcast with Chris Meissner of the 202 Group, Meissner talks about how an economic downturn will likely disrupt many of the growth projections and business assumptions companies have (just look at Maximus' suspension of its guidance earlier this week). 

Strategic plans will go out the window. There will be a need to "re-level set" expectations, as Meissner puts it. Business as usual will not exist.

Soul-searching might be too strong a term, but company strategies are going to change. I’m not sure how quickly this will show up but the signs I’ll be looking for are new partnerships and alliances. What if any merger-and-acquisition activity will also show signs of change.

Those are two of the fastest ways companies can realign their capabilities.

Right now, there are just too many questions and not enough answers. We know things will change. We just don’t know how yet.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Mar 26, 2020 at 12:14 PM


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