By the One Feather Editorial Board
The health of our community – socially, physically, economically – is at least partially dependent on the business community. While we, as a community, have some insulation from the economic affects of COVID-19 and the resulting governmental restrictions, entrepreneurs and other business partners are struggling to keep doors open and keep staff employed.
At least two local employers could not or would not continue to attempt to operate in this environment. They have closed their doors and look to have no plans to come back. These closures mean there are more families looking for a means to support themselves. It also means additional reduction of income to the Tribe (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) because of the loss of tribal levy. And, it means that there are at least two fewer amenities or choices for community members and the visiting public.
As we have seen in recent sessions of Tribal Council, we are scrambling to identify high yield revenue streams to “prop up” the tribal economy. Impacts of the recent coronavirus shutdowns and ongoing restrictions are continuing to strangle revenue streams, particularly the ones we depend on for big returns.
Internally, the Tribe is implementing austerity measures to conserve funds in existing coffers. But the government can only lessen the bleeding, not stop it. Essential services must continue to be provided and that requires a regular expenditure out of those coffers. Regardless of the depth of our pockets, the pockets do have a bottom.
The importance of retail businesses is highlighted by the in-progress retail space construction on the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort property. A multimillion dollar effort is in progress that will depend heavily on community and tourism traffic to produce a return on investment for businesses who lease there, the management company that negotiates and works those leases, and the Tribe who receives levy from those entities. In the current environment and moving forward, retail traffic may be expected to be drastically reduced from the projections that made the retail space attractive in better economic times.
We should and must support our businesses, but we also need for our businesses to support the community and touring public. PHHS (EBCI Public Health and Human Services) and CDC have established some baseline tactics for safely operating a business during this crisis; tactics crafted to move us toward community physical and economic survival. It is imperative that businesses follow the regulations and even the recommendations of these leading health organizations. The economic health of the Qualla Boundary is a two-way street. Businesses must put aside personal and political prejudice and adhere to the protocols put forth by our health officials. Consumers can help craft positive business behavior by spending your time and money in businesses who openly support the guidelines put forth and who show that they care about us.
We are at a critical time in our history. Everyone must pull together to protect the community and public in all aspects. We must truly act like we are all in this together.