Summer is here, and there’s an excitement in the air. Although the pandemic is far from over—might never be fully over—there’s hope.
Hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated, and restrictions are relaxing. Some economists and those who study social behavior are predicting a return of the “Roaring ’20s.” The 1920s were a time of social exuberance and a booming economy. They were a celebration of the end of World War I and the 1918 pandemic.
The 2020s could be a repeat of 100 years ago. Many of the conditions are the same. We’re coming out of a pandemic. We experienced some strife and turmoil on the political and social fronts. And no matter your flavor of politics, it’s hard to deny that the past few years have been tough. Although we’re unlikely to see a resurgence of the Jazz Age, I believe we will experience a surging economy very soon.
For more than a year now, personal and municipal spending, except on the essentials, has been repressed. People who don’t have jobs can’t buy stuff and can’t pay taxes and, make no mistake, taxes fuel municipal spending. People who did have jobs and money didn’t want to spend it for fear of the unknown. In many cases, especially with discretionary spending, people couldn’t spend money even if they had it—shops were closed, as were recreation and entertainment venues. Certainly, expensive vacations were put on hold. And all those things generate tax dollars. Cities and towns necessarily had to defer spending on capital goods, and that included items firefighters and first responders needed.
I have often heard the fire market is the last sector to feel an economic recovery. By that measure, apparatus builders, gear makers, and equipment manufacturers are about to see some genuine recovery. Think about it: The housing market is experiencing a surge, as is the dining and entertainment industry. And other sectors of the economy have shown sprouts of new growth.
As people and communities begin to recover financially from the pandemic, municipality coffers will necessarily start to replenish. When that happens, those who manage those funds might start feeling a little better and might loosen the purse strings and allow some spending on long-deferred needs.
Pent-up demand for apparatus, turnout gear, and a myriad of fire equipment will likely mean vendors and manufacturers will start seeing more orders. And that’s good news for fire service businesses. Little, if any, of the pandemic stimulus money made it to the fire service manufacturers’ level, as much of that funding was aimed at helping individuals during economic crisis. Sure, there were more than a few large-screen televisions carried out of big-box stores, but you didn’t see people pooling their stimulus money to buy new fire pumpers.
But, make no mistake, the sales tax from those purchases did, at least, trickle into municipal budgets, as did the funds from room and meal taxes when people started to dine out again and travel. In turn, that will all help fund new apparatus and equipment.
Income tax is also increasing as the country goes back to work. It’s kind of hard to collect taxes from people who aren’t earning much if anything. Property tax revenue streams are also starting to flow a little better too as people can afford to pay again. And, let’s face it, with more money on the ledgers from all sources of municipal revenue, it stands to reason that it will be spent.
I’ll make a prediction that as more of the economy comes back online, the more fire trucks and fire equipment will be sold. It just makes sense. The now 27-year-old aerial that should have been retired two years ago will suddenly come up for discussion and will likely turn into a contract. Those firefighters being asked to squeeze out a few more months on the 10-year-old fire gear that’s about to go out of NFPA compliance might get new PPE to not only keep the department compliant but keep responders safe.
As we consider a possible post-pandemic summer, there is an anticipation that rivals a 6-year-old waiting to run downstairs on a holiday morning. Although the elation will probably be muted compared to what was experienced 100 years ago, there’s no denying that we are all ready for a return to some sense of normalcy.
The roaring 1920s was a time of frivolity and excesses. Although it seems unlikely we’ll experience that level of elation this time, there are strong indications there could be an almost manic-like response as restrictions are relaxed and people feel more comfortable doing just about everything again, including spending money. And that can be good news for the people who make fire apparatus and emergency equipment and the people who depend on all of it every day to do their jobs.