Across the nation, businesses are closing at a record pace as entire industries remain closed to contain COVID-19. Some companies have pivoted rapidly to manufacturing goods or providing services specifically related to the crisis, including several distilleries that have shifted from alcohol production to manufacturing hand sanitizer.
But closing (either temporarily or permanently) or shifting toward a more relevant product line isn’t the only way businesses are changing direction. Brist Manufacturing—an apparel manufacturer in Bellingham, Washington, whose clients include the Seattle Mariners and Lyft—have become community cheerleaders.
Brist Manufacturing entered 2020 on the heels of several successful years, with more growth planned for the immediate and long-term future. Then, as we all know, 2020 almost immediately became the most awful year in decades since your grandfather was listening to FDR’s voice come from a giant, wooden RCA radio.
(Though no data on the subject is available, I am fairly certain that 2020 Q1 is the only quarter on record that included an impeachment, the death of a young basketball legend, a pandemic, a recession, and the emergence of a mulleted, meth-mouthed polygamous Tiger King in one three-month span.)
In response to the crisis, CEO Brendan Pape and his team at Brist developed a campaign focused on one simple message: “America, We Got This.”
“We could either wrap it up and go home, or buckle down and try to make a difference,” Pape said. “No one on our team wanted to wrap it up. We all wanted to make a difference. Because of that, we developed a message for our community, and really the world. We are all in the same boat. We all face uncertainty. But, we have faced fear and uncertainty before, and have always risen to the occasion. That’s the message we are trying to share.”
The program includes the ability to design an “America, We Got This” shirt specific to individual communities, with a portion of sales going to The James Beard Foundation Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund, which supports independent food and beverage businesses.
“Like almost everyone, our business is suffering because of this crisis,” said Pape. “But the need is more acute in the restaurant industry. We are trying to do our part to make sure the folks that couldn’t stay in business can survive the crisis. I think that’s what America, at her best, is really all about. We do what we can—and in business sometimes that means pivoting rapidly—to support the people who need help the most.”
“Brist is an example of how important small businesses are to the fabric of a community,” said Tony Larson, President and CEO of the Whatcom Business Alliance, an economic development organization in the Pacific Northwest. “The work Brist is doing helps keep local employees working and reminds us that entrepreneurs and innovators will help lead us out of this crisis.”
Federal, state, and local government COVID-19 relief programs are essential to business and community survival.
But recovery isn’t just about loans, interest rates, and stimulus checks.
Recovery will require strengthening our sense of obligation to our neighbors and our communities.
Recovery will require the least affected to turn to their friends and colleagues and say, “I lost some things too, but I am still here to help.”
Recovery will require all of us to look at each other and say, “America, we got this.”
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