One Year Later: Northern Nevada businesses reflect on industry shifts, lessons learned due to the pandemic

At the onset of the pandemic’s shutdown of businesses across the Silver State, Downtown Reno (seen here March 21, 2020) was eerily quiet and void of traffic.

At the onset of the pandemic’s shutdown of businesses across the Silver State, Downtown Reno (seen here March 21, 2020) was eerily quiet and void of traffic. Photo: Kevin MacMillan / NNBW

In February 2020, we shook hands and hugged without hesitation. We packed into convention centers, meeting rooms, restaurants and concert halls — networking, talking, laughing and dancing less than six feet apart.

Then it all went away. In March 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down Nevada and the entire nation, we started bumping elbows instead of shaking hands. We connected via Zoom rather than network in person. We relied on breweries and distilleries for hand sanitizer. We snapped up toilet paper and pasta at breakneck pace. We wore masks when we shopped.

All the while, the business community here was impacted in countless ways, big and small. Some shut down completely, others struggled to reopen, and many more found innovative ways to shift their business model to survive — and 
some even thrived due to a pandemic-related rise in demand.

One year later, the NNBW fielded responses from more than 20 business owners and executives in Northern Nevada — bars, banks, contractors, developers, Realtors, healthcare providers and more — to find out the biggest lessons they have learned since March 2020, and the biggest differences in how their industry now conducts business.

Zack Ponce, CEO, Tripp Enterprises

“First and foremost, we were reminded that we need to give threats the same level of respect that we give to opportunities. A good company has a constant pulse on its immediate opportunities. The pursuit of new revenue and new clients is intrinsic, it’s never ending. We are conditioned, backwards and forwards to be offensive-minded. When we think about threats it’s is completely different. The ability to anticipate threats requires you to stop and ponder and contemplate. The effects of 2020 were truly profound; just about every aspect of our business was impacted. And it was tough. But we persevered. Looking back, I would say 2020 taught us to be vigilant. Or it taught us that in order to be vigilant, you have to think defensively. We have to consider ‘what-if’ scenarios in all areas of our business, no matter how safe they may seem. It’s almost like football. If you really want to excel, you can’t rely solely on a great offense, you need a great defense as well. And this year, we’re learning to be more defensive.”

Colin Smith, owner-chef, Roundabout Catering

“The true value of any company lies within its employees. Buildings, trucks and equipment are merely objects until a member of our team breathes life into them. We would not be intact coming out of this historic pandemic without the dedication and sacrifice of our people. COVID-19 also brought into focus the importance of our roles as owners and managers and the need to be flexible in all areas regarding our employee’s needs.”

Kurt Hoge, president, Reno Type

“I’ve preached for years that it’s critical to take care of your own team, but 2020 really underscored how imperative it was for businesses to prioritize the health and safety of the people who drive them forward. The notion of ‘health and wellness’ came off of the lofty, idealistic shelf and became tangible. On behalf of my team, I feel lucky we shifted to a union shop, since it meant we could take on the business that kept us afloat during the worst of the pandemic. But while we may have been temporarily isolated because of that business (the political cycle) in the not-so-quiet background, the pandemic caused most companies to reevaluate how their marketing efforts were performing. Everyone has always been on their devices, but by the end of March 2020, everyone was on their devices for all components of life, and companies started making the decision that if everyone was digital they wouldn’t need to invest in direct mail. That’s something that’s difficult for our team to reconcile with, but the reality is when so many folks fail to invest in direct mail, it creates a pretty valuable opportunity for those who stick with it: far less competing things in a person’s mailbox, especially at a time when digital inboxes are overwhelming.”

Wally Murray, president and CEO, Greater Nevada Credit Union

“The pandemic allowed us to call on valuable lessons learned during other challenges such as the Great Recession: Start with the community. The community needs help, and the individuals need help in different ways. That means we need to connect with our people and figure out where we can be the most impactful. Oftentimes, that took the form of helping individuals with their personal issues. And we did that very personal act of listening thousands of times over. And we acted when it was possible to offer deferred payments, lower interest rates and restructured loans. We also responded by adapting to strict safety protocols, while keeping our branches open and creating new ways for our members to transact with us digitally. COVID-19 provided opportunities to adopt new technology and make financial interactions more convenient and improve the services we offer. However, this health crisis also exposed economic disparities. Greater Nevada and other credit unions across the country are committed to ensuring that no one is left behind as we begin our recovery.”

Joel Grace, president and COO, ARC Development Group

“During the pandemic, our company has learned that technology has been a blessing and a curse. I had missed in-person meetings with our team and partners. The blessing is that it forced us to have a digital platform to manage our business, which has been a goal. However, it has been tough to make a priority. This uneasy time had allowed us to make the time, and reorganize our processes and structure.”

Jessica Pauletto, membership director, The Club at Rancharrah

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that we all crave community, connection and a sense of belonging, despite seeing the world from entirely different perspectives. It is so important to give grace, patience and understanding to your fellow humans, especially in a state of complete chaos and uncertainty. From Rancharrah’s perspective, 2020 was a great reminder that personalized service and recognition will always triumph over everything else. If we feel heard and taken care of, we build everlasting bonds.”

Michael Neeser, operations manager, Neeser Construction

“There were some close calls last year. Working in the air and tying reinforcing steel was especially difficult and impossible to do the six feet of distancing. Sensible heads prevailed. One of our suppliers went out of business due to the pandemic a few days after we took delivery of the order. We have had some COVID cases, but they all resolved well, and the bulk of those were administrators and not those outside working in the environment. With a little luck, we were able to keep our schedules.”

Andy Ryback, president and CEO, Plumas Bank

“In the early weeks of the pandemic, we focused on being open, accessible and responsive to client needs. We helped more clients than ever to quickly adopt our online and mobile banking services for their convenience and safety. The pandemic revealed that people look to their bank for counsel and stability during a crisis. Clients wanted to talk with the banking expert they’d known for years when they had financial difficulties and complicated disaster relief programs to navigate. Community banks showed their true value within today’s self-service economy: personalized, relationship banking supported by the convenience of robust banking technologies. This model is an incredible asset to clients in good economic times and proved to be a critical lifeline to local businesses during the challenges of the last year.”

Dave Archer, president and CEO, NCET

“NCET traditionally provides in-person educational and networking events — focused on business and technology — for Northern Nevadans. When last year’s meeting caps virtually eliminated public gatherings, we moved our meetings online using Zoom and we offered 30 minutes of virtual networking before each program. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that our meeting attendance actually increased. Our audience finds the Zoom meetings to be more convenient since they no longer require travel time, and they can access our archived video library in case they missed the live event. Zoom also allows us to offer virtual tours of companies that might have been impractical before because of distance, security or meeting size restrictions.”

Aaron Abbott, executive director of EMS operations, REMSA

“The lessons and successes have been plentiful. The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on something our industry has been working to change for a while. The biggest difference in how REMSA conducts business now is focused on finding ways to safely get patients to the right level of healthcare. It is not sustainable to respond to every medical 911 call with an ambulance and transport every patient —regardless of their illness or injury — to a hospital emergency room. We all witnessed how quickly the emergency healthcare system can become overwhelmed. We must change the expectation around how a medical 911 call is managed. From offering registered nurse guidance over the phone to arranging for on-demand telehealth visits from home, REMSA is fully committed to taking these lessons and pioneering the next version of out-of-hospital healthcare — matching the right level of response to low acuity patients.”

John Ramous, partner in Nevada, Dermody Properties

“The one big lesson that the COVID-19 pandemic has instilled in the industrial and logistics real estate industry is that the way we may have conducted business before can change in an instant. While we know that many industries and people have suffered significantly, the logistics sector was one of few that was lucky enough to return to where it performed pre-pandemic and came back much stronger. E-commerce, last mile delivery and on-shoring are now more widely integrated into everyday households.”

Shawn Gallagher, fixed operations manager, Peterbilt Truck Parts and Equipment and Silver State International

“Our business strategies have always been built around adapting to change and adversity; 2020 was no exception. However, the year certainly represented a new threshold of change and obstacles. As an essential business, we prioritized safety in order to continue to support vital industries and adapted our daily operations to the needs of our customers. We understood that our role, whether it be to support first responders, municipalities, trucking fleets or trades, depended on us being flexible and expanding past the way in which we as an industry defined customer service prior to 2020. What stands out to me is that in the middle of a difficult situation for the world, that our team not only went above and beyond in what they did for our customers, but that this mentality extended past our walls and into the community. I am proud to say that we took the opportunity to give back to local nonprofits, first responders and other local businesses. It’s important to us that our community stays healthy and robust and I am very proud of the selflessness we saw in our team. It can be easy to demonstrate support for others when times are good. It’s when that is more difficult, that the willingness to support others becomes defining.”

Trevor Leppek, owner, Pignic Pub & Patio

“The food and drink scene in town already works well together, but this year threw a few new challenges at us, namely the vague regulations, constant prodding from government agencies ... plus, the cost for providing PPE got to be pretty expensive paired with rising costs from vendors on account of increased demand. Still, we feel lucky to have made it through all right. I do think we did a good job of collaborating for mutual survival when we could, re-imagining our offerings (drink kits, pick-ups, even mocktails) and rallying a lot more support from the community at large. The biggest difference I see for this industry is that most bars will likely be hyper aware of capacity. Food and drink suppliers have always had high standards for sanitization, but I think for the immediate future we’ll be a little gun-shy of big groups. Even if restrictions were to go away tomorrow, our team would feel a little nervous about dropping protocols just because of what we’ve gone through. I did get the chance to lean into a little more development for my team; the pandemic was a good opportunity to share insights for improving financial health. I recognize there are a lot of young folks working in the bar scene, but with the economic climate the way it has been for the last several months, it made sense to begin coaching them on some of the decisions they can make that will positively affect them down the road.”

Mike Ake, SVP operations of Keolis North America (contractor with RTC Washoe to staff buses)

“I think we’ve always known how heroic everyday citizens can be, but the initial weeks of the pandemic really taught us that these essential, front-line workers truly keep our communities moving. They’re the ones who deserve accolades. We also learned just how connected our communities are and how much we rely on one another every day to get through these types of challenges. We’ve been honored to keep our community moving — getting to and from their jobs every day, trips to the grocery store or doctor’s office. This last year taught all of us just how important equitable and safe transportation is to everyone in our community. We look forward to a day when we begin to return to some sense of normalcy in our communities. But, as we put some of the most difficult times in the rear-view mirror, we will never forget the sacrifices that so many have faced during this difficult year. And, we will remain committed to providing a safe journey for our passengers and a safe working environment for our employees.”

Katie Demuth, marketing and tourism manager, Virginia City Tourism Commission

“Our word of the year for 2020 was pivot: Pivoting from large-scale events to marketing our unique culture up on the hill. We saw our business scene on C street pivot as well, with many businesses taking this time to rethink their plan, including online shopping, delivery options, pickup only, outdoor dining and so much more. Our tourism and marketing team pivoted constantly with the changing directives, determining what we could promote and market, what was safe and what was responsible. We truly came out better because of it.”

Cary Richardson, VP of business development, Miles Construction

“At Miles Construction, we learned that life goes on, and the resiliency and ability of individuals and business to adapt and overcome is truly inspiring. We are all stronger and better because of this experience; it will forever reset our frame of reference and drives home the appreciation that control is an illusion. We never know what life has in store for us. This experience forced us to examine many legacy business practices and fostered an environment of creative solutions and remote productivity that would have taken us years to achieve if not for the COVID catalyst of change. The lack of personal interaction is the biggest challenge, for no matter the business, it is always about relationships, and fostering relationships without human interaction is a true challenge that we are still coping with.”

Jolene Dalluhn, executive director, Quest Counseling & Consulting

“While other industries were really suffering, the demand for behavioral health services grew significantly. Counseling became in high demand and we hired five staff in September and October to accommodate those in need of services. Overall, the pandemic and frequent dire news stories about its impact on mental health, isolation, and suicidal ideation destigmatized therapy and normalized the experience of seeking help.”

Adam Heuer, president, Heuer Insurance Agency

“As many other businesses experienced, our company needed to be flexible and adaptable as guidelines were continuously updated while operating as normal as possible for our customers. While most of us thought it was going to be 14 days to flatten the curve, it turned into a year of working from home, virtual meetings and conference calls. A couple of years ago, we decided to transition to a paperless agency and moved most of our documents online. With this change already implemented, working from home was an easier transition to make for our employees so we could focus on providing the best policies for all our customers. As we continue to move forward, our team will maintain the flexibility and adaptability for our customers and
 our team. Supporting our community, our team and our clients is crucial during difficult times.”

Dr. Josh Meier, physician at Nevada ENT

“There were many lessons learned last year. Our practice needed to adapt quickly and efficiently while meeting the new regulations and safety protocols. The biggest change our office made was implementing telehealth capabilities within four days to continue to provide care to our patients. Our practice didn’t offer telehealth options prior to the COVID pandemic, but we quickly realized we needed to adapt to give our patients a safer option to receive care. As with many other lessons from this pandemic, we don’t see our telehealth capabilities being discontinued.”

Darrell Plummer, owner, Sierra Nevada Properties

“The last year has introduced unprecedented change to our world. Technology has saved the real estate industry and the real estate agent during the pandemic. There are more tools for consumer use, improving the client experience. We are seeing a huge increase in training for agents, which will keep real estate professionals relevant and of value to the home buying and selling experience. While working from a home office was common for most real estate agents before pandemic, it was crucial for agents to set up their home office so they were able to virtually connect and engage with potential buyers and current and former clients. With social distancing regulations, we saw a major shift in open houses, and I would expect that to be a trend that continues past the pandemic. I anticipate seeing more live virtual open house events using social media platforms. This model offers a solution that is easier for a lot of clients and it allows those open houses to have a shelf life beyond a one-time weekend event with directional signs out on street corners. We are incredibly adaptable as a human race. I think we are all more confident in our own ability to face new challenges. There are so many ways to remain connected without face-to-face meetings. I am so proud of our team and the real estate industry as a whole for finding those opportunities and embracing change.”

Lou Primak, COO and principal, Agate Construction

“Looking at 2020, the important lesson that was reinforced at Agate was our goal to always be prepared for the unexpected. Once the pandemic began, our company leaders prioritized the health and wellbeing of our team members and their families. As essential workers, we understood that every one of our team members had unique situations and we strived to be flexible during those moments. Our team was dedicated to increasing our communication, both internally and to our customers to ensure they received high quality customer service. The construction industry was put on its ear from a preparation, planning, procurement and fabrication standpoint. Our team focused on our internal processes and controls to ensure we kept on track with timely deliveries and adhered to critical project completion deadlines.”

Ty Rogers, director of business development, Quick Space

“The demand for security and sanitation has never been higher than it is today. In the business of temporary human environments, our company used our unique perspective in the industry to problem-solve new challenges created by the pandemic. We had changed one of our core values from ‘flexible’ to ‘take ownership,’ and it came just in time. Most people have noted their ability to ‘pivot’ or ‘adapt’ to cope with changing regulations and social norms throughout the year; we leaned into the concept of ‘take ownership’ in a way that made us extraordinarily invested in our community partners by providing safe, clean environments for them to continue business and public services. The pre-pandemic way of approaching temporary office space and sanitation services — like portable restrooms, hand-wash and hand sanitizer stations — was often treated as an afterthought. The change has allowed us to be on the forefront of every serious project in town either in a consulting capacity or with actual deployment of assets.”

Shirley Folkins-Roberts, executive director, Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation

“One of the most important lessons I learned as the leader of a local nonprofit is that it’s crucial to be adaptable and be able to pivot. Prior to the pandemic, NNCCF was going into its 20th anniversary and had prepared to celebrate our families, donors and community partners that have supported our organization. When the pandemic started, our team needed to determine new, yet safe ways to interact with our families while continuing to provide emotional support. Our development and donor team had to create new ways to generate funds and provide opportunities for our local community to support our families financially. Being a local nonprofit allowed our team be more flexible and enable us to continue to support our families in any way we could. Our community was facing financial hardships; our amazing donors, community fundraising partners and foundations supported us as best as they could. A year later, we are continuing to provide support to our local families while being ready to pivot if needed as more updates come out. Through the support of our community and donors along with the guidance of our board of directors, NNCCF is proud to say we did not have to reduce any of our family support during the pandemic. As is typical of the Northern Nevada community, our fellow citizens looked to others in need and provided what they could to support NNCCF last year. As always, we are grateful for our community’s passion to help others.”


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