Inslee hears from Clark County business owners on challenges of COVID recovery 


Although the impacts of restrictions on businesses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a number of hardships, some local business owners are worried a reopened economy may have even greater impacts.

Gov. Jay Inslee convened a dozen businesses on July 13 during his visit to Clark County to discuss the challenges the pandemic brought upon their industries. Although the businesses, which ranged from restaurants, insurance agencies and costume and shoe shops, managed to stay afloat when shuttered or operating in lesser capacities, some expressed concerns that current conditions are still heavily impacting them.

“I think some of us thought it would just go back to normal the next morning,” Inslee said. Current challenges the businesses face include retaining and hiring staff, and dealing with an economic landscape that’s attempting to rebound after more than a year of relative inactivity.

Elizabeth Gomez, owner of Battle Ground-based Bridge City Contracting, expressed concern over the February rollout of the Washington State Energy Code. Gomez explained the point-based system of the code requires the implementation of energy efficiency measures like insulation, efficient windows and HVAC systems, which she said are currently hard to come by.

“We’re having a really hard time,” Gomez said, asking Inslee if a pause could be placed on the implementation of the code. 

Though she agreed with the code’s intent “wholeheartedly,” she said the timing is detrimental to people in the remodeling industry.

“We have a housing shortage here in Clark County. … We have low inventory and it’s driving prices up because we can’t keep up with the demand,” Gomez said. 

She added her workdays have nearly doubled in time as she attempts to track down supplies.

“Now we’re prepared to get back into business and we just have this huge (code) issue. It’s exhausting,” Gomez said.

Inslee said his office would try to determine how much of the impact on Gomez’ business results from the new code and how much is related to a more general stifling which has hit industries across the board.

“Almost every businessperson I’ve talked to has said ‘my supply chain is broken, I’m going crazy,’” Inslee said, adding apart from the supplies themselves, shipping has also been impacted by the pandemic.

Gomez also said she has lost workers who had to stay at home to care for their children, and didn’t return after restrictions were eased. She brought up an overall hesitation on returning to the workforce, which the governor said may be more indicative of a general sea change in labor.

“People now, I think, have changed their priorities in life,” Inslee said. 

He noted people receiving unemployment insurance now need to show they are looking for work after that requirement was recently reinstated, although business owners struggle to get applicants to the interview stage of the process. 

“Ninety-five percent — probably a little bit more — (are) no-shows for the interviews,” said Katrina Roberts, the co-owner of Golden Chariot, a non-emergency medical transport business. 

The governor responded by saying there is a tip line for those types of cases.

While revenues went down, expenses increased due to health and safety guidelines, Roberts said. The uncertainty during the pandemic on requirements and restrictions took a toll on many of the businesses as the situation evolved.

“There was a constant tension between predictability and certainty, which businesses want for really good reasons, and the ability to respond to what’s going on in the pandemic,” Inslee said. 

Roberts’ husband and co-owner, Clinton, said the business, which operates across Clark County, had to mothball eight of the business’ fleet of 18, many of which are hybrid sedans. He said the batteries on the inactive hybrid vehicles died and would cost $5,000 per vehicle to replace. 

Due to financial constraints, the business was not able to replace high-mileage vehicles. Instead, they have been running the vehicles longer and losing market value. Clinton said it would likely take three years to recover financially.

“It’s this right now, it’s the coming back that’s been more impactful to us,” he said. 

Clinton acknowledged that Inslee has shown gratitude to the businesses like his who have provided essential services during the pandemic, but said questions still remain.

“How do we get helped back to returning to where we were at?” Clinton asked.


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