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Life after lockdown: the view from North America

As COVID-19 continues to rip through some of America’s biggest cities, its effect is being felt far beyond the more than 150,000 Americans confirmed infected.

According to some reports, last week America recorded more than 75,000 new cases daily – five times the rate of all Europe. One thing is clear, explains Fred Kostecki, managing partner in St. Louis and the network’s North American Regional Chair. Economic recovery, within the United States and the wider North American region, is totally dependent on the region’s ability to control the virus.

“Until we can get control of infections and illness, we’re really not go to see a return to consumer engagement. And it’s that lack of consumer engagement that has really devastated industries, particularly the service sector.

“It’s fear of the virus that keeps people from travelling, entertaining, dining out and physically interacting with each other. And you can buy as much as you want to online. But full recovery really depends on consumer engagement. And that depends on us controlling this virus, which clearly we haven’t done yet.”

Even before COVID-19 struck, we had seen a number of protectionist measures being introduced around the world and supply chains shortening – not just from heavy weights like the US and China, but globally. And this is a trend that will likely continue in the region.

The virus has taught us that we cannot be overly dependent on other countries for our own supply chain, explains Kostecki.

“But with isolationist mentality, I think that it will certainly limit growth in the long-run.

“There has to be a balance. We’re definitely seeing more on-shoring with clients and more near-shoring as well within the supply chain.”

The new US – Mexico – Canada free trade agreement became effective 1 July, but it’s too soon to tell how that will stimulate commerce. But with the US-Canada border still closed to non-essential travel, things are going to remain tricky.

A mixed bag 

“Transferring you office to your home is a challenge – and then you throw into the mix home-schooling, wifi capacity, space capacity and lack of resources in general. I’m proud of the way our folks have responded.”

There are clear cut winners and losers in this pandemic from a business perspective.

“The M&A market has been virtually shut down for the last three months. Just within the last two weeks we’ve started to see some markets come back to life,” says Kostecki.

“There is a lot of money, particularly in private equity, that has to be put to use or it’s going to be returned to its investors – so I’m hopeful that the M&A market will see a reprieve during the second half of the year.

“The hospitality, travel and leisure industries have all been dealt a deathblow. But then on the flip side you have industries that support the new normal of working from home that have been doing really well.”

Shopify’s share price, for example, is rocketing on the back of a number of deals they’ve made with working with Walmart. And sales of technology products that support our life now have gone through the roof.

“The communications industry has been doing well, as have online businesses, home improvements, etc.”

Remote working 

The pandemic has brought tragedy and economic turmoil. But we have also seen positives come out of it.

“I am confident our firms are going to come out of this stronger”, says Kostecki.

“COVID-19 brought us together. Our influencers and business leaders are ‘meeting’ more than they ever have. They’re sharing thoughts and ideas on how to navigate through this pandemic. They are spending time working on our businesses, not just in them.

“And we’re seeing some really smart things operationally – things that probably we should have been doing all along! And these things aren’t going to stop once we are through this pandemic. They’ll continue and they’ll make us stronger.”

Listen to the full podcast: Great Conversations: Life after lockdown, the view from North America.

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