Reid Aronstein ’12: State’s Global Business Development Manager talks COVID-19

Reid Aronstein ’12 is the Global Business Development Manager at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Previously he worked for Performant Corp., Ascent Capital Management of U.S. Bank, and the Truman National Security Project. He graduated from Colorado Academy in 2012 and Dartmouth College in 2016.

CA: First, are you and your family okay? 

Reid: My family is doing well. My parents are in good health, good spirits, and practicing social distancing to the best of their abilities. My dad says that this has been easy for him, as he has been practicing social distancing for the past 10 or so years. I am not sure that my mom is as happy about the social isolation, but she is keeping our whole family in good spirits with her unbreakable optimism.

Tyler ’08, our middle brother, is an emergency medicine doctor in Chicago and has been working diligently to treat patients affected by the virus. He is currently healthy and in good spirits as well. My eldest brother, Will ’06, is safe and well in Denver, and is adjusting to working remotely. His wife, also safe and healthy, is a nurse practitioner and has also been working hard to treat patients in Denver with the virus.

CA: What are you experiencing from this pandemic in your work?

Reid: The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade sits within the Governor’s Office and includes the Global Business Development team (my team), the Small Business Development Centers & Business Support team, the Colorado Tourism Office, the Colorado Office of Film Television & Media, the Outdoor Recreation Office, Colorado Creative Industries, and the Business Funding & Incentives Team. Our office’s charge is to create a positive business climate conducive to economic development and job creation, and our various teams drive at that goal through industry development in each of their respective focus areas.

 My role entails meeting with and supporting companies and delegations across the world that are interested in relocating to, expanding in, or investing in Colorado as well as shaping/executing the Governor’s Foreign Direct Investment Strategy. While the bulk of my time and work at OEDIT has been characterized by Colorado’s strong economic growth and name recognition as the “top economy” and “best place in the U.S. to move to,” we have seen a significant shift in our work and strategies over the past month.

 Only a few weeks ago, the entire agency was at the office performing work characteristic of economic expansion: the State at near full employment, solid job and population growth, and thriving business/creative/tourism activity. We were scheduled to host multiple international delegations from Japan, India, Australia, Austria, and many other countries as part of our international business development efforts to attract investment from and collaboration with foreign governments and companies across the globe. Within the span of a couple of weeks, however, the vast majority of those visits, meetings, and conferences were cancelled as a result of travel restrictions and fear regarding the spread of the virus. We have yet to see many of these conferences and large gatherings rescheduled, and we expect that many of these will be cancelled entirely.

 For places like Colorado Springs, which was to host the Colorado Space Symposium (15,000+ visitors), these cancellations represent a sizable loss to the community and state. Today, our entire office, save for two individuals each day, is working from home. While we are equipped to perform our jobs remotely, it is still an interesting dynamic to begin each day with a team meeting over Google Hangouts, rather than in person. As a positive, I have now met many of my coworkers’ pets via video. Other state agencies have employed similar tactics, though have ensured that all essential services are still open and available.

 As it became apparent that the virus was hitting and affecting the United States, the scope and target of our work drastically changed. Our office is now channeling most of its resources, both staff and funding programs, towards emergency response and economic stabilization/recovery. The bulk of my work over the past two weeks has been attempting to understand what the immediate effects on the business and medical community are and how we can best address the struggles that businesses, health care providers, and communities throughout the state are facing.

We are working on a number of different State-led responses that will both augment federal efforts and fill any gaps that may be left by federal stimulus plans. As you can imagine, the economic effects of this virus on Colorado’s small and large businesses, particularly those in food services, transportation & logistics, and hospitality & leisure have already been severe, and we are working on providing support such as filling short term capital deficiencies so that these businesses can still pay their rent/utilities/interest/employees during times of lower demand for their products/services.

 Furthermore, we are also targeting our efforts at supporting the supply chain of Personal Protective Equipment and medical devices like ventilators necessary for the treatment of COVID-19 to our health care providers. Our office’s work will ultimately roll up into the Governor’s Innovative Response Team and the Governor’s Economic Stabilization and Growth Council, which together are tasked with generating short, medium, and long term countermeasures to mitigate the damage done by COVID-19.

 For more information on the resources available to people and businesses, my office’s website has a great page that will be constantly updated as additional information becomes available. Additionally, for businesses impacted by the virus that have questions about resources and support available to them, our Business Support team is manning a hotline at the following number: 303-860-5881.

For students, parents, and faculty looking to volunteer or provide support in an effort to fight COVID-19, I would also recommend they visit this website , which is being managed by the Office of Emergency Management.

CA: So much of what we are hearing is referencing past catastrophic events: Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the 2008 market crash, and others. Are there experiences or training that are guiding your work each day?

Reid: Within our office and more broadly across the entire government, we are evaluating this crisis in light of those prior disasters, as well as the State’s response to the terrible floods in 2013 and wildfires we encounter each summer. Ultimately, I think the greatest lesson we can learn from prior disasters is that through taking individual responsibility seriously, supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, and collaborating with one another, we can overcome any challenge.

 This health crisis, which may precipitate a large economic downturn, is a very unique and unprecedented challenge to be sure, but our ability to abstain from blaming and finger pointing, to work together, and to support those most in need will dictate how quickly and effectively we are able to dig our way out of infection/recession.

 At OEDIT, I am only one of 30,000+ state employees, but as public servants of Colorado, we all take our individual responsibility in this recovery effort very seriously. We all have a part to play, and no one is too young, too old, or too inexperienced to help. I would encourage everyone in the CA community to take their responsibility and potential impact as a Coloradan and American equally as seriously.

CA: Are there lessons that you can relate back to Colorado Academy? 

Adaptability, collaboration, and conviction are all lessons I first learned at CA and have applied to my work over the past few weeks. Juggling the fast-paced pressures of classes, fine arts, sports, and friendships at CA requires students to be adaptable and exercise their critical thinking skills, which are the most important skills in today’s knowledge-based economy.

 As the COVID-19 crisis continues to change at a rapid pace and we are continuously trying to aim at a moving target, we have had to consistently adapt our critical thinking skills to address the moment’s most pressing needs. Similarly, when a problem needs to be addressed in a short period of time, collaboration with others is critical. Without a diversity of opinions and input, our solutions/end products are bound to fall short, or at the very least fail to address a substantial portion of the problem. In addressing COVID-19, we have collaborated with other State agencies, cities, and towns across the state, as well as cities and states across the country, to develop as comprehensive a response as possible.

 This morning I even inadvertently found myself in an open-source google document with a college classmate working for the New York City Economic Development Corporation. That document had individuals from at least 10 different states actively collaborating on various solutions.

 Lastly, one of the enduring lessons I learned at CA was from Luis Terrazas, who, on the first day of AP U.S. History, said “success in this class will be dependent on you being comfortable with what you do not know.” It is challenging to accomplish a task when you don’t know all of the information that pertains to it, but succeeding in challenging courses, much like responding to a global pandemic, requires having conviction in your abilities to master the task at hand without letting the anxiety of the unknown ahead color your efforts in the present.

CA: Is there advice you would have for the CA community on any front?

Reid: Please take social distancing and other community/city/state health/social recommendations seriously. Even if you are in good health, your choice to hang out with friends or disregard public orders could jeopardize someone’s sibling, parent, or grandmother that is at greater risk. This crisis requires that we all do our part, and sacrificing short term satisfaction from socializing is a small price to pay for a quick economic/health recovery and return to normalcy.

CA: Can you look down the road six months, nine months, or even a year… and predict how we will look back on this pandemic?

 How we look back on this pandemic will in large part be determined by our actions today. The sooner we can stymie the spread of COVID-19, the sooner students can go back to school, employees back to work, and our world back to normal. While initially this disruption may only affect small businesses, a more protracted fight against the virus could substantially disrupt major employers in Colorado and the United States, which will have increasingly large and long-term ramifications for our economy.

 Ultimately, as financial markets indicate, the uncertainty as to when this disease will subside has created, and will continue to create, significant disruptions in supply chains, labor forces, and forward-looking strategies for businesses in every sector of the economy. For this reason, it is critically important that everyone follows social distancing and other public health orders, so that we can hopefully look back in six months and say we all worked together and did our part to bring a swift end to COVID-19’s impact on our community.