Adapting brought benefits in 2020

Let’s hope COVID-19 put an end to two stupid stereotypes.

First, governments can move quickly and change direction overnight when sufficiently motivated. In future, politicians and bureaucrats asking for more time for “the process” should be mocked and/or ignored.

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Second, artists and entertainers are some of the most adept entrepreneurs in business. The successful ones don’t just sit around waiting for handouts.

If anyone needed more proof, the arts and entertainment sector proved in 2020 how it is led by savvy business people with the skills and imagination to make dramatic changes to their business model to stay open and relevant.

Christina Watts, The Citizen’s choice for Prince George’s 2020 artist of the year, not only altered her business in the past nine months, she expanded it, adding national and international customers for her art, her virtual classes and her latest offering of handmade paints. Her kids help her collect the rocks that go into a crusher, one of the first steps in the paint making process.

She wasn’t the only one. The fiercely prolific Carla Joseph was selling new work and prints as fast as she could create them.  Local residents responded. 

The refurbished Community Arts Council gift shop did a booming business selling the works of local artisans, especially in the Christmas season.

The Prince George Symphony Orchestra sold out a series of small, intimate socially-distanced shows.

Theatre Northwest’s stage readings of Canadian plays, as well as the work of local playwrights, were also a hit.

Based on the public reaction, expect these artistic innovations to remain in place in one form or another, once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror.

Local businesses showed the same hustle, offering curbside pickup and delivery options for everything from food to home renovation supplies.

There were casualties, of course, and there will be more in 2021 but the entrepreneurial spirit, as well as the willingness of area residents to support that spirit with their hard-earned dollars, shone through. Faced with the choice of “buy local or bye-bye, local,” Prince George shoppers kept as much of their money as they could in the local economy.

The tourism sector was also hit hard but responded with creativity, partnering with fellow operators and other businesses to create unique experiences for area residents hungry for a holiday from COVID-19 but forced to stay close to home.

Furthermore, governments and other publicly funded institutions demolished the myth that the public sector can’t do anything fast. 

Northern Health made rapid changes to its health-care delivery model while local family doctors altered their practices and connected to patients over the phone, on FaceTime or Zoom.

Almost overnight, UNBC and CNC switched to online learning for the vast majority of programs and students. School District 57 also moved quickly with online learning and revised schedules when schools reopened in September.

Certainly, some of that change was less than desirable but it showed these institutions are not slaves to their bureaucracies. Alternative service delivery options can be developed and implemented quickly.

The federal government rolled out massive aid programs in record time while the provincial government coordinated a rapid public health response to the pandemic. The politicians and the bureaucrats clearly proved they can act and deliver in short order when the will to do so is there.

Sadly, the City of Prince George was not one of those governments that responded well. After taking a wait-and-see approach for the first few months of the pandemic, city council and administration finally responded over the summer with some layoffs and civic facility closures. Those closures, however, left Prince George as possibly the only B.C. municipality that didn’t put in ice in August and open up its rinks in a safe manner for local residents. It took a public outcry for city council to reverse course.

Hopefully, city council and a new city manager in 2021 will change the business as usual culture at city hall.

They certainly don’t have to look far for inspiration. 

There have been plenty of great local examples in the public and private sector of rapid adaptation to the pandemic, fostered by creative leaders willing to go the extra mile in service of their employees and their customers. 

Those innovations won’t be forgotten once everyone is vaccinated.

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