Fear not

Anxiety and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can be overcome by hope

Where did summer go? I remember thinking during the earliest days of the pandemic that time was passing so slowly. Hours seemed to drag on. Days lasted forever. But as more information became available, NRCA quickly shifted into a higher gear and it seemed like we were all working 80-hour workweeks to keep the industry informed. Time sped up dramatically. Then, a new normal began.

People slowly but surely went back to work. For the most part, where I live in rural central Tennessee, life seems pretty much as it was before the pandemic. People are at work, albeit wearing masks, folks are going shopping and to restaurants again, and families and friends are enjoying evening get-togethers. But then I watch the news and see what the rest of the U.S. looks like.

The experience that any one person has is not the same experience for every other person. As I speak with NRCA members from throughout the U.S., it becomes clear rural America does not at all look like urban America. Urban America is still frozen in time a bit and, in many cases, frozen by fear.

Fear, at least in my way of thinking, may be a normal response to uncertainty. If you live in a city that has been disrupted by violent demonstrations, you experience another kind of fear. If businesses are closing down and being boarded up, your thoughts of a brighter future can be damaged. Fear can invade and destroy confidence in the economy, confidence in our institutions and confidence in our businesses. Fear is mostly unhelpful.

The economic effects of COVID-19 are still being felt and may worsen before the situation gets better. Business bankruptcies in the U.S. are at a 10-year high. There are still millions of people unemployed. Congress and the White House can’t agree on anything. It’s frustrating for sure. But I see some bright spots.

The residential roofing sector is mostly having a good year. Some of this is being caused by weather events, and some is caused by the pandemic. People have been working from home. Restaurants are partially closed, and no one is spending money on expensive vacations. Millions of families and individuals received generous stimulus money. Add this together, and is it any wonder folks have decided to fix up their homes? Residential roofing contractors have had a win here.

But many members are telling us commercial and industrial roofing work is starting to slow down. Pricing is getting competitive, which rarely happens at this time of year. This also can add some fear to the equation.

Dale Carnegie put it this way: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

And NRCA member Gregg Wallick, president and CEO of Best Roofing, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says: “My life has been full of many terrible misfortunes, and most of them never happened.”

Although quotes like these can help us focus, they don’t change the circumstances of our experiences. When you add up the effects of COVID-19 with stay-at-home directives, a slowdown in travel and business activity, and lost lives it’s reasonable to be cautious.

It seems as though we live in two different countries right now. A left one and right one. A blue one and red one. Neither side wants to give even an inch to the other. I get asked regularly who I think will win the White House. I don’t have any idea. The polling during this summer was almost identical to the polling in 2016, so that’s mostly unhelpful. If you use the stock market as an indicator, 20 times in the past 23 elections the incumbent president won when the market was up 90 days before the election. So in that case, President Trump looks like a shoe-in. However, no U.S. president other than Franklin Roosevelt won reelection when the unemployment level was higher than 10%. Advantage Biden. We will just have to wait to see.

Either way, I don’t anticipate huge changes in the economy no matter who wins. History informs us the economy works because of people like you: people who own businesses and provide services customers want and need. The government can facilitate growth and possibly impede it, but it doesn’t cause it to happen—328 million Americans do. And they will continue no matter who wins the White House or Congress, and that’s our best hope.

Reid Ribble is NRCA's CEO.

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