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Surviving the COVID-19 pandemic: What will the Hampton Roads economy look like on the other side?

If you are out of work, now is the time to 'upskill.'

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — There's a Taste of Texas off Lynnhaven Road in Virginia Beach. When you drive by you can smell the spare ribs, brisket, and pork butts smoking on the grill. 

"All of my recipes have just been playing around with different spices and different seasonings," said owner Tim Dodd. He's from Texas, and what he serves is real Texas barbeque. 

"We actually leased the restaurant two weeks before COVID-19 hit and shut everything down," Dodd said. 

What started out as a catering business and then a food truck, is now full-fledged restaurant. Despite his timing, Dodd hopes he's found the recipe for success: tweaking technology for takeout orders, relying on social media to get the word out, and giving his customers what they want. 

"It's been a three-year process, but we're where we want to be," he added.

Peter Shaw is a business and economics professor at Tidewater Community College. He says Dodd may have what it takes to make it to survive the pandemic. 

"The interesting thing about tough times, it culls from the herd the weak," Shaw said, who adds not that all of our favorite shops and restaurants will survive the pandemic. Only those with cash and the ability to adapt will see the other side. 

"A lot of people say we'll enter the post-pandemic period in the second, third, fourth quarter of 2021. A lot of CEO's of Fortune 500 companies are looking at 2022, 2023," Shaw said.

"Everyone keeps talking about, let's go back to normal. We have a new normal now," said Robert McNab, who is the director of the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy at Old Dominion University.

McNab is an expert at crunching the region's economic numbers, and he is concerned about the pillars of our economy. Stimulus bills could leave us with a $5 trillion deficit this fiscal year. The bill will come due and Hampton Roads will pay it if defense spending is cut down the road. 

To counter, McNab said the region must diversify its economy. 

"We have to invigorate the private sector to move into other industries; renewable energies and cybersecurity," he added.

Economic experts say that post-pandemic, there could be opportunities for touchless technology companies and do-it-yourself businesses. City skylines may change as businesses now realize their workers can be productive from home. 

As for the 46,000 people in Hampton Roads who have lost their jobs in the pandemic, now is the time to upskill with an eye toward high tech. 

"Remember when you go to work for a company, you are selling your skills," Shaw said. "They're buying them. So, what are you selling?"

Whatever becomes the region's new normal post-pandemic, economic experts say the region must have a detailed plan to prepare for the next pandemic. Our economic future may depend on how well we can leverage the successes we've had fighting COVID-19. 

"Research has shown that areas that close down and were more stringent about protocols were able to exit earlier and grow more quickly over the coming decades," McNab said, adding employers look at areas that have successfully dealt with lowering the COVID infection rate. The economic future of Hampton Roads may depend on how we do those simple things to stop the spread.

Back at the Taste of Texas, if you love barbeque, you know it takes patience. Tim Dodd's days start at four in the morning and you'll find him late into the evening. 

"We can't just shut down. We can't stop what we're doing," Dodd said.