Business leaders see bright post-COVID future

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WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- James Phelps founded JCP Construction during the Great Recession of 2008, which helped him navigate a worldwide pandemic.

“It was a challenge, but we made it through the year and we're profitable,” he said. 

Before the pandemic, JCP Construction was named general contractor for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. But COVID-19 sent most of the DNC to Delaware, and a sizable chunk of JCP’s business with it. Phelps said he had to adjust.

“One thing JCP does is both the general contracting and construction management. We also work on larger projects as a contractor, so we kind of pivot it back to the subcontractor work,” Phelps said. 

According to Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, the economy as a whole survived the pandemic well, with some areas being hard hit.

“The restaurant and hospitality industry just got crushed and I really feel for companies,” Sheehy said. “If they have the capital to weather this, they'll come back, because the demand will be there.” 

Sheehy estimates that 40-thousand area jobs were lost in hospitality, retail and travel during the pandemic.

“During the last year we've lost around 100-thousand jobs in Metro Milwaukee of 875-thousand that were employed coming into 2020. We've recovered about 60-thousand of those 100-thousand jobs.” 

Sheehy predicts that most of those jobs will come back, but maybe not until 2022.

Some companies, like QPS Employer Group, are hiring right now. QPS President Ryan Festerling says workers are in demand.

“We are at the highest number of open jobs, at least in the past five years, that we've ever had,” he said. 

QPS Employment Group staffs manufacturing companies. Festerling says that anyone in the hospitality or restaurant industry who lost their job should look at the potential benefits of changing their career path.

“Am I willing to make a switch into a new industry that probably pays the same or more,” Festerling said. 

While salary is high on the list of considerations, Festerling also thinks the pandemic has made some people shift priorities and look within to find out what is really important to them.

“I think there are definitely some things that are here to stay. Again, when you watch how some companies really took care of their employees through this, they're not going back,” he said. 

The pandemic may have presented an opportunity for some to follow in Phelps' path and start their own business.

“You'll see an entrepreneur group I think come out of this as well,” he said. 

Bottom line for the pandemic economy and beyond: people and businesses who can adjust and adapt, can also survive and thrive.

“I think that in the end we're going to be one of the beneficiaries of this, because of our resilience and our ability to adapt to a changing environment like we've seen through COVID,” Sheehy said.

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