By Scott Meacham
Oklahoma is a state that has learned how to live through boom and bust. While we are constantly working to diversify our economy, the sectors of energy, agriculture, and aerospace dominate.
With a mix like that, Oklahomans have had to learn how to take a 360 degree view. From tornados to swings in the global demand for oil, the nature of our economy is such that we have learned resilience in the face of realities that we will never be able to control.
What does that resilience look like?
First, we have the collective mental toughness to recognize the truth in an economic situation. Second, we know how to plan by realizing both best case and worst case scenarios are possible. Third, the people who live here have a love for the state and don’t give up. We don’t always agree on the next right thing to do, but we do agree that Oklahoma is a great place to live and work which keeps us trying no matter the circumstances.
We now find ourselves, along with the rest of the world, in the middle of a health and economic situation the likes of which we have never seen, including the most rapid job loss in history. How can we use the learned experience of this state to survive and thrive, whether the recovery is shaped like a V, a U, or something else?
Start at the beginning. What have we learned from the energy sector? Painful as it is, oil and gas producers and service companies have learned to be efficient in hunkering down and shedding jobs to survive through down times. We are going through that now in most sectors of the economy with the oil and gas sector once again leading the way.
We will lose some companies and some job losses will end up being permanent. Companies whose business models were less strong before the pandemic will go away. But, while demand has paused or even shifted, it did not go away.
The world is going to be different. Healthcare has shifted to telemedicine. Now that we have a taste of that, who wants to go sit for an hour in a doctor’s waiting room with a bunch of sick people. We have learned that we don’t have to go to the bank to make deposits; we can just snap a picture of a check, use an ATM, or even drop a deposit in the mail. With Amazon Prime, Shipt, Wal-Mart delivery or a host of other home delivery option, we don’t have to fight crowds at the grocery store. And the list goes on. Airlines are using under-utilized passenger plans to carry freight. Other industries are also adapting to the new reality of a global pandemic.
I must admit I had never heard of Zoom before this. I have learned that I can effectively have board meetings, term sheet negotiations, and one-on-ones with entrepreneurs, co-investors, and staff as if we were in the same room. We can conduct business completely differently without much loss at all. With these solutions and more, COVID-19 has disrupted inertia and bent up the curve of experimentation and adoption of new ideas.
It took the U.S. five years to recover from the Great Depression. The Great Recession took less than two. As quickly as this downturn hit, it is not unreasonable to believe we may rebound nearly as quickly but no one knows for sure. What we do know and cannot afford to forget is that this too shall pass just like every other economic challenge we have faced in the past.
Oklahoma is aspirational. Our collective mindset is to make the best of what we have. We cannot see the future in a crystal ball. But we can see the outlines of opportunity and a future that is assured.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.