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Fed Listens in Lynchburg: Pandemic Effects

Tom Barkin speaking at a FedListens event
Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin convened a YouTube livestream conversation with a panel of Lynchburg, Virginia leaders on Oct. 5 to discuss their pandemic recovery efforts

In keeping with a mandate from the Federal Reserve Board of Governors to know and understand communities across its region, the Richmond Fed recently hosted Fed Listens session in the city of Lynchburg. This year’s program focused on understanding economic recovery in the era of COVID-19 – a topic that all 12 Reserve Banks are exploring in their communities.

Working in partnership with the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance and Renee Haltom, the Bank’s regional executive for Virginia, Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin convened a roundtable of community leaders on Oct. 5 who shared how the Lynchburg region has remained resilient and developed deeper partnerships during the pandemic.

“We were grateful to have the opportunity to hear from Lynchburg leaders about a range of business and community perspectives and to learn how Covid has impacted communities in ways we can’t grasp from the data alone,” Haltom said.

The panelists gathered at the Business Alliance headquarters for the discussion and it aired live on the Bank’s YouTube channel. Panelists ranged from business and health care officials to local government and civic leaders.

Participating were: Traci Blido, executive director of Virginia Career Works-Central Region; Bill Bodine, president and CEO of the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation; Michael Elliott, senior vice president and chief transformation officer of Centra Health; Stephanie Keener, director of the Small Business Development Center – Lynchburg Region; Christine Kennedy, chief operating officer and executive vice president of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance; and Sterling A. Wilder, executive director of the Jubilee Family Development Center and the Lynchburg City Council representative for Ward II.

A persistent refrain during the conversation was that the Lynchburg community – like so many across the country – is banding together to work through challenges as the pandemic lingers. This has included reconciling:

An economic and housing climate that is yielding an influx of newcomers to the area who are leaving behind big-city living due to Covid.

Significant need and disparities among lower-income households that Covid exacerbated.

A worker shortage that is requiring employers to become creative with their recruitment and retention strategies.

A business community that continues to shift and collaborate to meet pandemic-era supply chain needs.

“We are talking to each other and looking for solutions,” said Kennedy of  the Business Alliance.  “Local CEOs are making decisions that are positively impacting our community.”

She noted that some minority business owners in the area have faced unique challenges while trying to sustain their companies. They may be under-banked, have recording keeping practices that are too informal for some of the pandemic relief programs or, in some cases, are simply not aware of the assistance they are eligible for, Kennedy said.

Blido, of Virginia Career Works, discussed how students and families in the region have dealt with Covid’s impact on education. 

Children who might otherwise have benefited from early education or Pre-K programs to learn certain fine motor and social skills, for example, missed those opportunities last year and arrived to kindergarten this year needing that training before advancing to academic subjects, she said. However, while there have been stressors involved in trying to educate young students virtually, there also have been positives, including many families and teachers becoming more close-knit, Blido said. 

Elliott, of Centra Health, discussed the challenges of retaining health care workers in a fluid market where nurses can follow the Covid spike around the nation and earn three to four times more. “Even before the pandemic, we were in a nursing shortage,” he said. “When nurses leave their hometowns to head to places where they can make more, that puts pressures on their local community, even when the surge is not that bad in their area.”

President Barkin thanked the participants for sharing their perspectives on behalf of the Lynchburg region as an illumination of how life has changed across many Fifth District communities since the pandemic took hold in early 2020.

“Look at all that’s changed – health and health outcomes, schools, transit, government benefits, consumer demand, supply chains, wages and labor availability, costs and prices,” he said. “When things change like that, those of us who you’ve entrusted to try and steward the economy really get the benefit out of being here to learn what’s actually happening.”

The archived Fed Listens program can be viewed on the Bank’s YouTube channel

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