Austin, Tucson and Portland Are on the Fast Track to Recovery

As vaccination rates increase and businesses start to reopen, cities across the country are cautiously moving forward with economic recovery plans to coax workers back into offices and revive real estate markets pummeled by the pandemic.

Some midsize cities — like Austin, Texas; Boise, Idaho; and Portland, Ore. — may be poised to rebound faster than others because they have developed strong relationships with their local economic development groups. These partnerships have established comeback plans that incorporate a number of common goals, like access to affordable loans, relief for small businesses and a focus on downtown areas.

The partnerships are also encouraging investments in infrastructure as lures for new business activity. Last Wednesday, President Biden announced a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to modernize the nation’s bridges, roads, public transportation, railways, ports and airports.

“Recovery plans create an agenda for rebuilding the metropolitan area,” said Richard Florida, professor at the University of Toronto, who helped prepare a plan for northwest Arkansas.

Google, Microsoft, Target and Twitter about remote work, and some cities could see less office construction activity.

These challenges are not limited to midsize cities. Larger metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and New York are certainly in distress, but they have shown the capacity in the past to rebound from calamity. In San Francisco, municipal authorities said that there was no way to predict postpandemic construction activity but that expectations were high.

“This isn’t the first recession here,” said Ted Egan, San Francisco’s chief economist. “We’re expecting people to come back to the office.”

But the cities that have a strong alliance with business development agencies are expected to recuperate faster.

For instance, the Downtown Austin Alliance, a business development group, is convening focus groups and workshops, and conducting interviews and surveys to stir fresh interest in its downtown office market. Before the pandemic, 11 buildings encompassing roughly 3.5 million square feet were under construction, nearly half of all downtown office space.

Boise established a 16-member Economic Recovery Task Force made up of city officials, academics and executives of professional organizations. In September, it issued recommendations to “enhance economic resilience and agility.”

And the Greater Portland Economic Development District formed a partnership with the Metro Regional Government to prepare a plan to recover from the economic shock of the pandemic, which wiped out 140,000 jobs and shuttered 30 percent of the region’s small businesses. Among their recommendations is to direct funds and technical assistance to small businesses through local Community Development Financial Institutions, part of an affordable-lending program from the Treasury Department.

Some cities are already seeing success. A year ago, Boston abruptly suspended construction for nine weeks in an effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus. During the moratorium, the Boston Planning and Development Agency prepared a recovery plan that focused on reviewing permit decisions for major projects remotely. With its 250-member staff working from home, and in some cases outfitted with new software and digital equipment, the planning agency held 220 virtual public meetings and digitally reviewed architectural plans and land-use proposals.

“We identified a methodology to conduct our reviews and resume public participation,” said Brian P. Golden, the agency’s director. “Honestly, it worked better than we could reasonably have expected.”

The city approved 55 significant development projects last year encompassing 15.8 million square feet and valued at $8.5 billion, the most in Boston’s history. The largest was $5 billion Suffolk Downs, a 10-million-square-foot, mixed-use development with 10,000 housing units rising on a shuttered horse-racing track.

Tucson is also intent on resuming construction. Along with identifying sites for industrial development, the Sun Corridor recovery plan calls for resuscitating the city’s downtown.

The pandemic closed 85 downtown restaurants, eliminated 10,000 travel and tourism jobs and cut revenue in the sector by $1 billion. The antidote is to persuade city and county leaders to make loans and grants available to small businesses tied to the tourism industry, the focus of commercial space in central Tucson.

Mayor Regina Romero said the city was investing $5 million — $2 million more than last year — in the city’s tourism marketing group. Tucson also distributed $9 million from the federal relief legislation passed in March 2020 in grants ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 to small businesses, many of them in tourism.

“We’re working together as a region,” Ms. Romero said. “That’s one of the most important steps that we can take for the recovery.”

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New York Times Names James Dao Metro Editor

The New York Times on Monday named Jim Dao, a deputy editor on the national desk who has worked in a wide range of roles at the paper since 1992, as its new metropolitan editor.

“Jim will oversee the most consequential mayoral race in many years, and the epic story of the rebuilding of a city devastated by the pandemic,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, and Joseph Kahn, the managing editor, said in a note to the staff on Monday.

For Mr. Dao, 63, the new role is a homecoming. He joined The Times as a metro reporter nearly 30 years ago and was later the department’s deputy editor. He has also served as Albany bureau chief, congressional reporter and Pentagon correspondent.

In 2010 and 2011, he reported an eight-part, multimedia series about the yearlong deployment of an Army battalion in Afghanistan, “A Year at War,” which won an Emmy. He was also an executive producer of “Soldier Father Son,” a Netflix documentary based on the life of an Army sergeant profiled in his Afghanistan series.

the Op-Ed editor. In June, the section’s top editor, James Bennet, resigned amid internal and external criticism of a Times essay by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, that called for troops to be deployed in response to civil unrest. Mr. Dao stepped down from his position, and The Times reassigned him, making him an editor on the national desk.

Mr. Dao takes over metro coverage from Clifford J. Levy, who led the department since 2018 until January, when The Times announced that he would spend some time advising the audio department as a deputy managing editor, one of the highest newsroom positions at the paper.

Mr. Dao steps into the new job as a number of candidates are promoting themselves in advance of the Nov. 2 vote that will determine the successor to Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City. He also takes the job at a time of flux within The Times. High-level editors have lately gotten promotions as Mr. Baquet, 64, approaches the paper’s traditional retirement age of 66 for top leaders.

Carolyn Ryan, who oversees recruitment and strategy at The Times, was promoted to deputy managing editor in October. Marc Lacey, the former national desk editor, joined the newsroom leadership team as the editor in charge of live coverage in December. Rebecca Blumenstein was promoted in February to a newly created role as a deputy editor working directly with the publisher, A. G. Sulzberger.

The Times has also promoted rising stars recently. Jia Lynn Yang, a deputy editor on the national desk, was appointed national editor in February. Ms. Yang, the author of the 2020 book “One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965,” coordinated the national department’s collaborations with the politics team for the paper’s coverage of the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential campaign.

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Arkansas, Delaware and Wisconsin Expand Vaccine Eligibility

Arkansas, Delaware and Wisconsin announced plans on Tuesday to open vaccinations up to those 16 or older by next week, bringing the total to 39 states that have announced plans to open vaccinations to all adult residents by mid-April.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, said those residents would be eligible to be vaccinated as of Tuesday and lifted the state’s mask requirements, despite an urgent call from President Biden the day before for states to keep or reimpose mask mandates, even as vaccinations increase. Wisconsin’s eligibility change goes into effect on Monday and Delaware’s on Tuesday.

Ending the mask mandate in Arkansas was “appropriate” Mr. Hutchinson said, who said that new virus cases and hospitalizations had decreased across the state. While there will no longer be a mandate, Mr. Hutchinson still urged people to continue to wear masks. “It’s important to be courteous to others and to be mindful that we need to protect ourselves and others,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

In Arkansas and other states, cases and hospitalizations have been declining. But the number of new virus cases has been slowly mounting across the country, including in Delaware and Wisconsin. This is adding pressure to getting more Americans vaccinated before worrisome variants spread into a possible fourth surge. In what they see as a race against time, federal health officials have been asking states not to lift restrictions prematurely.

weeks of decline earlier this year, followed by a plateau, new virus cases are rising again, with a nearly 19 percent rise on Monday compared with the number of cases two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database.

Similar upticks in the past have led to major surges in the spread of the virus. Still, new cases and deaths have declined from the early January peak. The seven-day average of new deaths remains near 1,000 a day, and the nation surpassed 550,000 virus deaths in total on Tuesday, according to The Times database.

Federal health officials are pleading with Americans to stay vigilant, warning of a potential fourth surge as some states, like Arkansas, Texas and Florida, relax or eliminate virus restrictions.

Health officials are also concerned about variants like the one that walloped Britain, called B.1.1.7, which has led to a new wave of cases across most of Europe. The United States remains behind in its attempts to track them, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to locate them has recently improved and will continue to grow.

Some scientists predicted weeks ago that the number of infections could curve upward again in late March, at least in part because of the rise of variants of the coronavirus across the country. The B.1.1.7 variant isrising exponentially in Florida where it accounts for a greater proportion of total cases than in any other state, according to numbers collected by the C.D.C.

Hours before Mr. Biden’s warnings on Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., was emotional as she spoke during a news briefing. She said that while the nation had “so much reason for hope,” she could not shake the recurring feeling of “impending doom.”

“While we have so much hope on the horizon, we are just asking you to hang on just a little bit longer. Wear your masks, continue to distance and do the things that keep you safe,” Dr. Walensky said on Tuesday during a news conference at a vaccination site in Massachusetts, reiterating the pleas she made a day earlier.

Dr. Walensky’s remarks have come at a striking moment when there has been optimism about the availability and effectiveness of vaccines. Three dozen states are set to open eligibility to the general public by mid-April, well before Mr. Biden’s earlier pledge of May 1.

More than one in three American adults have received at least one shot and nearly one-fifth are fully vaccinated, but the nation is a long way from reaching so-called herd immunity, the tipping point that comes when the spread of a virus begins to slow because enough people, estimated at 70 to 90 percent of the population, are immune to it.

“We continue to be at war with the virus,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Tuesday during a news conference. As cases increase, Ms. Psaki said, the Biden administration responds in kind. She pointed the efforts to broaden vaccine eligibility across the country and increasing vaccine supplies to states.

The president on Monday pledged to have vaccination sites within five minutes from where 90 percent of adult Americans live. To do this, Ms. Psaki said, the administration is adding another 23,000 pharmacies with vaccines to the federal pharmacy program, in addition to the 17,000 pharmacies that have already been getting vaccines. She said governors were told on Tuesday that another 33 million vaccine doses will be allocated to different jurisdictions and programs.

“We know that the more people who can get vaccinated, the more accessible it is, the more effective we are going to be. And that’s where we’re putting our efforts,” Ms. Psaki said.

Apoorva Mandavilli and Allyson Waller contributed reporting.

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Arkansas and South Dakota pass bans targeting transgender minors

Arkansas lawmakers have approved a ban on gender-affirming healthcare for transgender children, sending the governor a bill that has been widely criticized by medical and child welfare groups.

The Senate voted 28-7 on Monday in favor of the legislation. If the bill is enacted it would be the first prohibition of its kind in the country, opponents say. The bill would prohibit doctors from providing gender confirming hormone treatment or surgery to minors, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment. It also allows private insurers to refuse to cover gender-affirming care for trans people of any age.

The legislation restricts treatments that have been endorsed by major medical associations and human rights groups. They say the care is well established and part of a gradual process that has been shown to dramatically improve the mental health of the most vulnerable kids.

The state’s governor Asa Hutchinson a Republican, has not said whether he supports the measure, but has previously supported anti-trans bills. He has five days, not counting Sunday, after the bill reaches his desk to sign or veto the legislation before it becomes law without his signature.

The measure is among dozens of bills targeting trans people that have advanced in Arkansas and other states this year. Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have enacted measures prohibiting trans girls and women from competing in school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. On Monday, South Dakota’s governor also issued an executive order to prohibit trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams.

Conservative legislators have introduced more than 80 bills restricting trans rights in the US so far this year – most that would either block trans kids’ use of gender-affirming care or limit their access to certain sports teams. It is the highest number of anti-trans legislative proposals ever filed in a single year.

Hutchinson on Friday signed a law that would allow doctors to refuse to treat someone because of religious or moral objections, a move that opponents say could be used to turn away LGBTQ+ patients.

Opponents of the measure include the American Academy of Pediatrics. The American Civil Liberties Union said it plans legal action to block the treatments ban if it’s signed into law.

If signed, the ban would take effect later this summer.

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