OP-ED: Thinking Outside the Box?WashCo Dems op-ed article

By Gary Peterson, PCP, Washington County

Our government’s solution to the economic crisis caused by the pandemic is to subsidize people and businesses until we get to the other side of the pandemic which is what we have always done in all previous economic crises. The arguments between the Democrats and Republicans center on how much, and who should receive those subsidies.

Think about this: roughly 33% of our workforce are employed by small businesses with less than 99 employees.  And, most of those businesses are in the retail or restaurant industries which depends on local “foot traffic” for most of their revenue.  As I see it, the problem with the government’s approach is two-fold: first, we don’t know when we will get to the other side of the pandemic; and second, we don’t know if, and how, consumer behavior has been altered.

How do we change the dependence of “foot traffic” for these businesses?  One way is to embrace Amazon’s MK27 delivery drone approach to urban delivery for retail and restaurant businesses.  Amazon has been seeking FAA approval for their drone for the past several years. The use of drone delivery would build on the “cottage industry” that is exploding for individuals who sell things out of their home.  Amazon has the infrastructure to deliver items from a home-based business to a buyer’s home today, although it is based on ground transportation which generally does not work well for the retail and restaurant sector.  This is because the take-out model depends on the customer picking up the merchandise.
Imagine being able to order from a restaurant and have it delivered to your doorstep within 15-20 minutes of coming out of the kitchen with a bottle of your favorite wine? And, if you did not want to do dishes just notify a drone to pick-up the real dishware after your meal!  Imagine being able to order an item from home and within 15-20 minutes of looking at it online at your local merchant’s website.  Then, if you do not like it or it does not fit, let a drone pick it up and return it.   From a labor/employment standpoint, restaurants would still need waiters organizing the meals and loading the drones and dishwashers.  And, any local merchant would still need support staff to do the same for his/her products.

The technology to make this happen exists, but for unknown reasons, the government is slow on approvals.  Amazon has been seeking an FAA permit since early 2019. Is it that Jeff Bezos and Amazon have pioneered this concept? Is it that it is overly complicated to figure out all the regulations even though NASSA has been testing an air traffic control system for drones for years? Is it just too bureaucratic causing it to take years?

In addition, the US has 3 decades of UAV manufacturing experience that is focused on military aircraft, if the government gave them tax incentives to start commercial drone manufacturing it would create new jobs in a soon to be growing industry. Expediting approval of delivery drones would enable Amazon to provide this service to the retail and restaurant businesses in the short term but if the government gave small business tax credits for implementing the technology it would take the middle man (Amazon) out of the distribution model. This is “Thinking Outside the Box”.

As a retired consultant, I know that it is easier to find reasons that this would not work but if the same energy was spent on figuring out how to make it work, it might be a longer-term solution.

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