A sign at an Atlanta business on Thursday, April 23, 2020. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Opinion: Free enterprise is responding well to COVID crisis

Over the last few weeks, the power of free enterprise has been on full display as companies around the world have shifted, planned, reprogrammed and adjusted to protect employees and customers across a very different economic landscape. At the same time, we have witnessed small businesses and gig workers struggle in the economic aftermath of coronavirus. Thankfully, government leaders at the local, state and federal levels moved swiftly to enact major legislation saving thousands of U.S. companies, their employees and families. Though the road ahead will be difficult, the combined forces of a democratic republic and free enterprise will overcome.

During this time, I have heard the drumbeat of an old tune grow louder. Extremists want to argue that since the government offered loans to support some businesses, this action somehow translates into a failure of the free market; a crisis of no business’s making. However, the restrictions imposed on business and the public by governments around the world to protect their citizens does not mean that capitalism has failed or was at fault. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

When the Western world was attacked by this pandemic, it immediately turned to the free market for help. And, just like that, businesses stopped their normal operations, focused on the problem at-hand and delivered solutions to fight a common enemy that threatened the very life of mankind. Just as industry in the U.S. turned from making cars to manufacturing tanks in World War II, the power of the free market has, once again, taken problem-solving to completely new levels of innovation.

Around the world, large and small companies alike have done what they do best. Innovative workers adapted to disruption, leveraged knowledge and ingenuity, and harnessed the power of talent and skill to marshal resources for attacking the problem. Government asked for more and better effective testing, and bioscience companies responded. Government asked for more personal protection equipment, and manufacturing responded. Government asked for businesses to protect employees and customers, and we all responded. Government asked for ideas to protect Americans, and again, the business community responded. The forces of free enterprise have risen to the challenge and found solutions, flattened the curve and saved lives. And while business has been doing its job to innovate and provide, government has bravely protected and defended our families, workers and front-line companies. Socialism - or even social democracy - would have fallen far short.

Here, in Georgia, we have seen the same response. At every call from Gov. Brian Kemp, the free market responded and with little thought to its own bottom line. Though there are many stories, here are a few companies that have risen to the challenge of protecting employees, clients, customers and the general public by fighting COVID-19 in very strategically innovative ways:

  • Abbott Laboratories, in Alpharetta, is a medical device and healthcare company that launched a compact test which can detect COVID-19 in as a little as five minutes.
  • Anheuser-Busch, in Cartersville, is using its supply and logistics network to produce and distribute hand sanitizer to communities across the U.S. through the Red Cross.
  • In like manner, Pretoria Fields, a craft brewery in Albany, made and delivered over 200 bottles of alcohol-based sanitizer to public safety professionals and first-responders.
  • Uber, a transportation network, has activated several of its partners to support the relocation of domestic violence victims to safety during this pandemic.
  • UPS is providing unprecedented resources to transport testing kits, personal protection equipment (PPE) and medical devices in support of public safety, virus diagnosis and therapy for COVID-19.
  • KIA Motors, in West Point, has shifted from making cars to producing face shields for frontline healthcare workers. In one month, the plant can produce approximately 200,000 face shields.
  • American Textile Co. in Tifton has transitioned to manufacturing thousands of face masks to meet the ever-growing demand due to COVID-19.
  • Anthem Health has offered its members free screening and testing services, is waiving cost shares for COVID-19 treatment, and is offering telephonic services to deliver quality healthcare directly into the homes of Georgians.
  • Hospitals of all sizes across the state are leading the day-to-day life-and-death fight against this powerful enemy.
  • Banks, financial services and credit unions, both small and large, are answering government’s call with readied staff to process and deliver application approvals of stimulus loans like PPP and EIDL, essential to small business survival.
  • Local restaurants and food-service establishments have stepped up to the plate to provide meals for frontline workers.

And when President Trump needed advisors to help restore the economy, he turned to Georgia. Georgia-headquartered companies Chick-Fil-A, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Southern Company, UPS and Waffle House as well as dozens of other companies with Georgia operations are partnering with all members of Georgia’s Congressional delegation to further the response and recovery.

For a century, the Georgia Chamber and local chambers across the state have been fighting for the future of free enterprise because we know that it is tied directly to democratic governance, economic mobility and enhanced prosperity for all Georgians. The New Georgia economy will see a prioritization on sustainability, resiliency, innovation and wellness. At this time in our history, we require a unique partnership between government and business and in doing so, we will move from pandemic to prosperity in a new way for a truly better Georgia.

Chris Clark is president and CEO, Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

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