The multi-part, virtual South Sound Summit continued Tuesday with new insights from local leaders and community members. 

Hosted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, the event will continue to unfurl every day through Oct. 22. Each day is broken up into two sessions — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Morning Session 

The summit’s morning session consisted of a wide-ranging panel discussion mostly focused on COVID-19 response and anti-racism work being done in the Pierce County area. The panel comprised former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who is currently running for Congress; Pierce County executive Bruce Dammeier; Columbia Bank COO Andy McDonald; and Potential Unleashed CEO Jahmad Canley.  

“I am really delighted that even in these very difficult times we have found ways to continue to keep these opportunities where we can engage with each other on subjects that are so important to our region,” current Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said in her opening remarks. 

Strickland started the dialog by putting a spotlight on both regional resiliency and challenges stemming from COVID-19 impacts.

“Our elected officials here understand that in order for our communities to be better, we have to work together,” she said. “They understand that being pro-business means you also can be pro-worker, pro-environment, and pro-community. And that’s the difference between the South Sound and other parts of Washington state.”

Strickland praised the relationship between elected officials and business owners and strong collaborations on large infrastructure and transportation projects. 

But, she added, “we know we need more (outside help). And so I’m hopeful that the federal government will pass another relief package — realistically, we’ll need another one in 2021.” 

McDonald spoke next, and talked about how Columbia has adjusted its protocols amid the pandemic. 

“The ability to sit down and talk with a banker is important,” he said, noting that the bank has worked to maintain normal branch operations. “That is making a huge difference in a lot of small businesses.”

McDonald said that Columbia Bank has provided over a billion dollars in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding throughout the region’s delineated footprint, and has granted over $1.8 billion in loan deferrals to businesses and consumers.

“We know that this isn’t going to last forever,” he said. “We’re going to get through this — we’re going to get through the other side.” 

Dammeier continued by noting recent improvements — like decreasing COVID-19 case numbers and related hospitalizations — and brought up how the county government has worked to help the community.

He said that the county government “is using $150 million of federal CARES Act money in the best way possible to help all of the people of Pierce County get through this coronavirus event,” invoking usage for public health emergency response, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, and mobile testing. Dammeier also mentioned the availability of grants and other forms of assistance.

“There’s a lot of things that I see in Pierce County that give me a lot of reason for a brighter future,” he said. 

Canley spoke last, and made it a point to talk about what difficulties businesses are facing aside from COVID-19-related setbacks, and how his organization has come into play. Canley’s organization, Potential Unleashed, emphasizes leadership development, culture transformation, and anti-racism work.

Canley said that during the past six months or so, his organization has worked to help other organizations not only stay afloat, but also innovate and rethink usual operations — especially when addressing systemic racism.

“Similar to what we were doing back in 2007, 2008, when we actually first got our start in this, (Potential Unleashed) is really helping people think about things from a different perspective, helping them see the blind spots that they currently may not see, and just rethink — ‘how do we do this work?’… A lot of what we’ve been doing and a lot of what we do is … helping organizations continue to move through that path, help them develop strategies around it.” 

Canley said that since April, his organization’s phones and emails have “blown up with people” — typically organizations and nonprofits — reaching out and expressing an interest in anti-racism education. 

“If we continue to move in the status quo, we continue to do business as usual — we will not see things change,” he said, adding, “I think we’re building a strong foundation for 2021.” 

Following the panelists’ remarks, summit participants sent over questions for the speakers to respond to via a virtual messaging board. 

Afternoon Session 

The afternoon session primarily focused on the current state of COVID-19 and its effect on health care and the economy. The panel featured Bill Robertson, president and CEO of MultiCare Health Systems, and Congressman Denny Heck, U.S. Representative of the 10th Congressional District.

Robertson opened the discussion with an update on COVID-19. He said that recent data show COVID-19 cases have plateaued in the Puget Sound region, but added that it is difficult to predict whether it will remain that way. Though it may be difficult to predict the future of COVID-19, Robertson said he was glad to report that health care has improved over the past seven months to better deal with the disease.

“Even as the population of people with the disease has increased, and we’re testing more, the number of people who are being admitted to hospitals, as a percentage of those with the disease, is declining,” he said. “Our capabilities to care for people inside the U.S. health care system, and inside my own health system that I’m privileged to work at, has also improved dramatically. We have much better PPE, we have much better testing available, and we have much better treatment modalities, which has a very positive impact on individuals. So the mortality rate is declining.”

Roberston added that although health care is improving, COVID-19 will continue for the foreseeable future. “Even if there is a vaccine and even as testing gets better, we have to learn to live in the context of the disease in a way that is healthy for the community,” he said.

Roberston closed by complimenting the community for its history of collaboration and highlighting how physical health and economic health contribute to creating healthy communities. “The health of a community is not just about health care, it’s about all the things that happen in a community. It’s about having our kids graduate from high school, it’s about how people have access to jobs … it’s how we vaccinate our children. It’s an array of things. It’s whether we have a healthy community or not,” he said. “Health is an important asset, as an individual, in order to have a healthy economy within our homes and our families. And, health is really important to creating a business that works, but a healthy economy helps have the resources to allow us to create healthy families as well.”

Heck focused on the economic impact of COVID-19, noting how the South Sound has two large and stable employers — Joint Base Lewis McCord and state government. “They are a blessing, frankly, in the context of a recession because they keep the churn going,” he said.

Heck’s main focus during the panel discussion was how the economy can be bolstered in the South Sound.

“The answer is (to) defeat the virus. The virus alone is responsible for this recession and if we will (follow the) practices that Bill suggested — mask up, careful hygiene, social distance, we can defeat the virus or suppress it very considerably until such time as the vaccine is not only deemed to be safe and effective but can be manufactured, distributed, and utilized by the public. If we do those things, we will win this, we will come out on the other side,” he said.

The majority of the panel discussion between Robertson and Heck addressed common concerns of the public — will hospitals be equipped to serve COVID and flu patients? Robertson said yes, noting that technology has improved and the need for ventilators has decreased since new treatments have been successful. Will there be a second stimulus check? Heck said yes, adding that it’s unknown if it will be passed before the election, but he feels confident there will be a second stimulus.

Tomorrow’s agenda will tackle marketing during COVID-19 and the future of sports, events, and retail. Tomorrow’s speakers include Stephanie Schramm of MadCap Marketing, Josh Dunn of Premier Media Group, Doug Burton of VSG Marketing, Rusty George of Rusty George Creative, Chelene Potvin-Bird of Travel Tacoma, Aaron Artman of the Tacoma Rainiers, and Anthony Anton of Washington Hospitality Association.