As part of a series about the “How Business Leaders Plan to Rebuild in the Post-COVID Economy,” Missouri Partnership CEO Subash Alias discussed Missouri’s plans for the future with Authority Magazine.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I consider myself fortunate that I have not lost anyone in my family or anyone close to me because of the pandemic. For that, I am thankful. However, the greatest personal struggle I have faced during this crisis is how our country became so divided over the past 15 or so months.
If there is one thing that unites people, it’s a common enemy. We went into this crisis divided, and unfortunately, it looks like we are coming out of it equally divided. I would find myself getting into senseless arguments with close friends about the pandemic. I eventually chose not to argue because I was only fanning the flames of division. All I could do is immerse myself in reputable and credible news sources while largely staying away from editorials to make my own decisions.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The first issue we had early in the pandemic and throughout most of it was engaging with the team remotely and keeping everyone connected. All of us were thrust into this situation and had to accommodate these changes quickly. The first thing we did was schedule regular 30-minute check-in video calls twice weekly. The goal was to be able to engage as a team informally. Rarely was there a plan — it was mostly a chance to connect. There was no fear of criticism if kids popped on the screen because they were welcome to join. We also had an optional Friday happy hour on Zoom. Sometimes we invited special guests to add to the fun.
The segment of our work impacted the most by the pandemic was related to our business development efforts. This is a relationship business, and our project management and business development teams are typically on the road about 50 percent of the time. We host clients around the state, meet with them over a meal, or catch a ballgame with them in their hometowns. Just like everyone, we had to pivot to engaging virtually.
One thing we’ve done is send pints of Missouri-made ice cream to our clients for virtual ice cream socials. We have been hosting these once a month to keep relationships afloat while everyone is remote. We have done an excellent job over the years of building relationships, so we’ve been able to maintain those relationships virtually — building new relationships in this environment has been far more challenging. Fortunately, most travel restrictions are beginning to loosen as more people are vaccinated. We expect to continue to build and grow new relationships immediately.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Fortunately, my wife and I are on the same page in how to cope with the pandemic. We had a continuous dialogue about what was going on and attacked everything as a team. I was most worried about my parents; my dad is quite happy staying at home in his world, but my mom is very social and eager to get out. While I was less concerned about her during the summer months because she could garden or engage safely outside, I knew the winter months would be far more difficult for her. We visited my parents safely when we could, and I would regularly call to keep up with them.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the post-COVID economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the post-COVID economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the post-COVID growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the post-COVID economy?
When the pandemic first took hold of the world, nobody knew what to expect. While there were warnings, the pandemic hit hard and fast. I recall having conversations with people in other fields where the outlook was abysmal.
Thankfully, we had some good fortune. Almost two weeks to the day after a national emergency was declared, we received a phone call from representatives with Chewy.com who were evaluating Missouri for an e-commerce operation with the potential to create 1,600 jobs.
What we saw playing out before us back then was the acceleration of the e-commerce trend due to COVID-19. Being in the center of the United States, we were well-positioned to help the nation get back on its feet by getting goods to consumers throughout the country. We eventually landed Chewy.com in the Kansas City suburb of Belton, Missouri. It was the first of many such operations that we have located and expect to locate in the state.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
First, we learned a lesson about remote working and how effective it can be. I would imagine those who can work remotely will continue to do so in a hybrid manner that blends remote work with in-person interactions.
Second, I think we will continue to see a shift to online shopping and home deliveries. Those who did not acquaint themselves with online shopping pre-pandemic may be more likely to use it today. I also believe that we will have to contend with some form of the coronavirus for the rest of our lives — we will need to be mindful of it and mitigate the risks associated with it.
While this crisis was certainly devastating to the economy, I am hopeful that we learned valuable lessons concerning the skills mismatch in the country. While so many people were struggling with unemployment, many employers had a hard time finding people with the right skills to hire, which has been an issue for decades. This pandemic could be a tremendous opportunity for workers to reinvent themselves.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the post-COVID economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the post-COVID Economy?
Over the past few years, Missouri and several other states and cities have scrambled to assemble teams, resources, and offerings in response to many highly publicized site selection projects. For example, Amazon scoured the nation and selected the Washington, D.C., area for its famed Amazon HQ2. Tesla needed a new manufacturing location for its Cybertruck and chose Austin, Texas. And the United States Department of Agriculture evaluated the entire country for two new divisional headquarters operations and chose Kansas City, Missouri. Opportunities like these don’t come around that often. And when they do, they come with little warning. It takes time to prepare and execute an effective strategy. With the realities of COVID-19, we suspect that vaccine, therapeutic, or related supply chain industry opportunities will be forthcoming. We are trying to be as prepared as possible for the next business attraction project tied to COVID-19 or another pandemic. That means assembling the right teams, gathering the necessary information, and developing the most strategic tactics in advance.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
We naturally want to see Missouri win these potential opportunities to help the nation and the world address another pandemic, but we see this as an effort that goes beyond our borders. We are in a national emergency, so every state and city should be as prepared as possible to do things that are in the country’s best interest.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
In both my personal and professional life, I always try to remind myself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That has been especially true during the pandemic. It was sometimes hard to see that light, but our team was fortunate enough to celebrate numerous successful projects during the pandemic. Those successes were bright lights during an otherwise dark time.
*see the full article in Authority Magazine.