GEE AND URSULA

How Pierce County’s ‘nimbleness’ has kept it functioning during shutdown

Apr 27, 2020, 11:46 AM | Updated: Apr 28, 2020, 9:58 pm

As small businesses remain closed under the stay-at-home order, unemployment rates continue to rise statewide. Pierce County is no exception.

“If you compare us to King County or Snohomish County, we’ve got a much more manufacturing based economy, much more distribution based economy, much more construction based economy than they do,” Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show.

For those reasons, the initial construction ban included in Gov. Inslee’s stay-at-home order was particularly hard on Pierce County. Dammeier said construction workers make 22% more than the average Pierce County worker.

“We really value those jobs,” he said. “They’re important jobs for our community.”

Unemployment numbers in Pierce County have now topped 70,000 employees, which is an area of concern for Dammeier.

“[While] safeguarding both the employees or the workers and our community, we want to try to get folks back to work safely so they can get stability back in their lives and help our community overall,” he said.

Avoiding a budget shortfall

Luckily, Pierce County is not seeing the same budget shortfalls expected elsewhere, including in Snohomish County.

“We’re in a biennial budget, we are looking at our kind of long-term implications and trying to understand the impact to our budget,” Dammeier said. “And right now, I think the real answer is nobody knows for sure because we don’t know when we’re going to come back, and we don’t know how quickly our economy will come back.”

Dammeier said the county has been financially conservative and has strong reserves.

“The services that Pierce County government provides to our county residents are really important,” he said. “And we’ve got to be able to provide those even in a downturn, and in many cases, they’re needed more in a downturn than in a positive economy.”

The county is tightening their belt in anticipation, he said, but the county is focused on being able to continue providing the services their community counts on.

Small business assistance

To help small businesses during the closure, Dammeier said there is a support program rolling out right now. It’s providing about $3.6 million to people in need.

“So one of things that we’re really focusing on is we want to get money out to support those small businesses, to keep them in business, and to kind of bridge between where they are today and and whatever federal money might be coming their way,” he described. “That’s where the county really makes a difference is by having that nimbleness, that ability to get that money out really quickly, and to really focus on the individual and specific needs of our community.”

In terms of reopening, Dammeier believes we need to be smart in our approach to avoid a backlash that will shut everything down again.

“The key should be can you operate the business in a safe way that safeguards employees and safeguards our community? If you can, then I think you should be able to operate. If you can’t, then you shouldn’t be able to operate. That’s always been my criteria.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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How Pierce County’s ‘nimbleness’ has kept it functioning during shutdown