President’s Article: July

The Great Pivot

When the going gets tough, the tough … pivot. What could be a better theme for every single business, non-profit or organization of any sort when it comes to its response to the now ubiquitous and historic COVID-19 pandemic.

Rarely before has it been the case that entire nations and communities have been forced to literally shutdown overnight for the sake of preserving public health. Certainly not in the computer age which has connected the world as never before. And this community, Missoula, Montana, is no different.

And how has the community responded? With determination and will to survive, it has pivoted in ways – on both a small and large scale – that were never imagined just a few short months ago. Restaurants forced to close began earnestly promoting takeout service as their only means of generating business. Small retail shops accustomed to physical traffic that had never found a need to develop a website to advertise or sell their goods online, desperately and instantly found that need – websites are now a critical lifeline to help maintain their customer base.

Artists were forced to gain an online presence and the public has responded generously to help support their livelihoods. In fact, some of them have found a whole new audience for their work outside of the local community by being online that otherwise may have never seen their work. Musicians could only play live gigs on the internet and be paid by virtual tipping – a concept never even considered until 2020.

In terms of essential services such as emergency response, hospitals, grocery and hardware stores, government agencies, food banks, public transportation, garbage collection and on and on … each have had to pivot their models to protect both the frontline workers and the general public. This often meant considerable and prolific increases in sanitation procedures, physical barriers, social distancing measures, sneeze-guards and personal protection equipment.

And businesses that could, have shifted their models to help produce to the essential PPE for those in serious need. A great example of this is that of Coaster Cycles in Bonner. Their core business is manufacturing three-wheeled pedaled vehicles for delivery services and their market suddenly vanished. What they found was an urgent need to quickly pivot and pedal on to a new model – and that was face shield manufacturing. As a result, they were able to bring back their entire laid-off workforce and create new critically needed jobs to fill huge orders for medical facilities all over the country including in NYC. They even partnered with Missoula’s Imagine Nation Brewing and used the shuttered taproom to set up assembly stations six feet apart and safely put people to work. To date, the combined effort has produced over 1,000,000 face shields. Now that’s what I call pivoting!

Missoula City and County governments have been able to continue to take care of business by functioning almost exclusively online. Critical meetings have been taking place continually by way of the ZOOM or Skype platforms often with doing so from the comfort of the officials’ own homes. These include regular public forums where citizens and constituents have been able to join and participate. As Mayor John Engen and County Commissioner Chair Josh Slotnik have both recently mentioned, communications between various agencies such as the City and County have actually improved with the forced used of online meeting platforms. Streamlined meeting times and direct, instantaneous contact have helped “grease the wheels” of the steady flow of information and decision-making.

And the Downtown Missoula Partnership is no exception when it comes being impacted and communicating & functioning online. In addition to being President of the MDA Board currently, I sit on multiple planning committees including the Board itself that have all been forced to not meet in person due to the pandemic. ZOOM meetings are now the norm and we’ve been able to continue to discuss, strategize and plan as well as can be expected under the circumstances. With the help of the federal Personal Protection Program loan the DMP applied for and received, the full Partnership paid staff have been able to remain working uninterrupted fulfilling the needs of the community and executing plans concerning the complete shift in priorities the entire organization has been focused on handling. The communications out to the entire Downtown community coming from this office have been critical sources of information and support that have become a beacon of information illuminating these darkest of economic and socially disrupted times. After the successful Winter Brewfest in February, every single one of the seasonal MDA-produced events have either been cancelled or reimagined in some way to take into account the Missoula County Health Department’s and Governor Bullock’s directives and guidelines to stop or mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in public settings. Talk about pivoting! This includes Garden City Brewfest, Out-to-Lunches, Downtown ToNights, the MDA Membership BBQ and the epic River City Roots Fest. I can tell you personally, the decisions to nix each of these have been heartbreaking to all of the staff, Board members and volunteers who put their hearts & souls into these culturally iconic Missoula get-togethers to make happen. They will be back stronger and more vibrant than ever when they can be produced safely. Fortunately, the MDA is continuing with the one program than can be – the fascinating & popular Unseen Missoula Tours. A small victory for public interaction and cultural education.

Lastly, the Biggest Pivot Award would probably go to the entire Missoula PaddleHeads (formerly Osprey) Minor League Baseball organization. Imagine a team and org that exists solely because of America’s Favorite Pastime, having recently won awards for the best re-branding effort in all of Minor League Baseball, successfully launching said rebranding in preparation for the upcoming season … and then have it all come screeching to a halt because of a worldwide pandemic. The entire Minor League season has been erased for 2020 across the country. So, what does a popular Summer season community supported & enjoyed baseball org do when confronted with a potentially inactive and empty open-air stadium for the year? They pivot … and pivot hard. Having a proven track record with the ownership’s insistence on community involvement, outreach and inclusivity (i.e. the outstanding and well-received Indigenous Heritage and Pride Nights last season), the PaddleHeads are creating whole new partnerships with local entities to activate this centerpiece of a home facility. They’ve partnered with the temporarily shuttered Roxy Theater,  ATG Cognizant, and Missoula Broadcasting Company’s The Trail 103.3 to bring Centerfield Cinema to Ogren Park every Thursday evening throughout the Summer – social distancing included. Add to that new weekly events like Trivia Night on Tuesdays plus Happy Hour Nights on Fridays at their outdoor bar, you’ve got yourself a pretty active & safe space that would’ve potentially been dark & dead in this usually-a-hotspot during the time it should be the most alive. Rumor on the street is there will be an event and fireworks display going off from the Park on Friday, July 3rd … but you didn’t hear it from me. Overall, the PaddleHeads love their community and it shows in everything they do. In fact, in addition to all of the above, they’ve offered the Park for use to any local organization seeking outdoor venues for in-person meetings or activities. They’ve shown themselves to be the epitome of community leadership at a time when Missoula really needs it. Their staff & managers serve on community-wide committees and with us on the MDA Board, and we couldn’t be more honored to be associated with them. Kudos to the PaddleHeads for showing up when they certainly could’ve been justified in choosing to lay low and not engage at all!

If this time will be looked at historically throughout generations, future Missoulians will be tasked to remember how this town and Its people responded when an unforeseen and unseen monster disrupted the entire economic and social fabric that gives it the vibrant reputation it enjoys. This community, OUR community, pivoted. It changed. It persevered. It survived. And it rose. To all of you who have done the same, you are the rocks in the river that refuse to move when flood season arrives. Solid as all get out. Rock on, Missoula … and keep on rising.

1 thought on “President’s Article: July”

  1. Loved the “pivot” article Bob! Thanks for the perspective and the information about how folks are adjusting to the new normal during these difficult times! Steve

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