Commentary: Texans need to get back to work fully — and soon
As a community banker, I am in touch on a daily basis with customers across Texas and Oklahoma. They are business owners, community leaders, mothers, fathers, students and homeowners - people from all walks of life. And they are all worried.
We have been facing a major health crisis that has affected the entire world. While public health is certainly a priority, COVID-19 has also had a significant economic impact and will continue to do so if we do not work to open the Texas economy. Restarting the economy should be the priority of the federal and state government, with a focus on mitigating COVID-19 for the at-risk population.
Common sense, social distancing and practicing good hygiene can guide our efforts to get people back to work. Shelter-in-place and other more extreme measures should be reserved for at-risk members of our community - those over age 60 and those with underlying health conditions, regardless of age. Controls and processes should be in place to protect them from COVID-19, specifically those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Our at-risk populations should also be given priority when it comes to testing.
The reality is that our economy, and our society, is based on relationships. Businesses want to be close and connected to their customers. Building these connections and relationships is how businesses grow and succeed. Our children thrive and succeed because they interact with each other and their teachers in our school systems. Our communities are built around sports, concerts and other cultural and civic activities that bring people together. Those events also foster our communal immune system.
The travel and hospitality industries have been particularly hard hit by stay-at-home directives. In 2018, the travel and tourism sector in Texas generated $80 billion in direct spending, resulting in $164 billion of economic impact, with 72 million out-of-state visitors.
The idea of opening the economy slowly and limiting capacity is not feasible for many small businesses with fixed overhead. Most of these businesses operate with slim margins, and their basic business plan only succeeds by achieving maximum volume. That's why businesses in Texas need to be allowed to open at full capacity as soon as possible. While we may very well see a rise in COVID-19 cases as we go back to work, the lower-risk working populations will gain herd immunity and the virus will eventually dissipate.
We need to allow Texans to make their own rational decisions and protect individual choice. We have learned a lot from the last two months, and people will act with caution. Our government needs to step back and allow the working people of Texas to decide how they will reenter everyday life. Opening the economy will come with risk, but it is no different from the risks we face every day from the ordinary flu or from car accidents. Those who are cautious will prevail over those who are not. The most important thing, however, is that we not take away the right of Texans to make their own choices.
We must not forget that our $22 trillion national economy and nearly $2 trillion state economy are what create our quality of life - including our mental and physical well-being. Seventy percent of U.S. GDP is consumer spending. We must get the consumer back to spending, and that requires allowing people to go back to work.
We must also remember that small businesses employ half of the workers in America. These small businesses are at the core of what makes our nation great. We cannot stand by and watch our small business community die. We must allow them to reopen before it's too late.
Dennis E. Nixon is CEO of International Bank of Commerce in Laredo, and chairman of the board of International Bancshares Corporation.