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Frisco Mayor on COVID-19, Reopening Texas, and What The Pandemic is Teaching Us

In late March, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to take a toll on the country, Business Insider announced that a study had identified Frisco as the most recession-resistant city in the country.
Courtesy of Frisco Mayor

In late March, as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to take a toll on the country, Business Insider announced that a study had identified Frisco as the most recession-resistant city in the country. The study looked at 264 of the biggest cities in the United States, using a variety of factors, and identified Frisco as its number one contender. 

Frisco is one of many cities in Texas working to reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Jeff Cheney answered some of our questions on May 11 about how the city is handling this stage of the pandemic. 

Q: May 10 marked the second consecutive day that Frisco reported no new cases of COVID-19 in the city. How are city leaders taking that information? 

Mayor Cheney: Well, we’re certainly encouraged as far as the direction of our cases. I mean, we’ve been holding pretty steady as far as our net active cases for the last three weeks or so. And so one thing we want people to know is that finding positives isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is actually a good thing, that we do want to find the positives that are out in our community so that we can take precautions with them and make sure they’re getting the healthcare and attention that they need. But our residents have been very diligent as far as following the orders that we’ve put out as a city, as far as being responsible when they’re out in the public. Our businesses have responded as well as far as going above and beyond what’s being asked of them to make sure they’re protecting the public and that’s why we feel like our numbers have been considerably lower than other communities. 

Q: And when you say positives aren’t necessarily a bad thing, do you mean finding tests that turn out to be positive? 

Yeah, I mean, we know there’s more than 30 people in Frisco right now that are likely active positive with COVID-19, and so that’s been kind of the key from the very beginning is making sure anyone that needs a test has the ability to get a test so that we can identify the positive cases so they can quarantine and make sure they’re getting the healthcare that they need. 

Q: How should residents take that same information that yesterday was the second day that there were no new reported cases in Frisco? 

Just to know that we’re monitoring it on a daily basis and we will continue to do so. We feel like Frisco is ready to begin reopening, which we have done, and as part of those reopenings, we’re not seeing really any change in our daily activity as far as net positives, so that’s an encouraging sign. We hope our residents start seeing that it’s safe to go out and about as long as they’re following the precautions that we put in place, and we’ll continue to monitor our business community as well. And we look forward to continuing to ease some of our business restrictions in the coming months, and we’re hopeful that by the end of this month that Frisco will be considerably open. 

Q: What were your thoughts on the plan to reopen the state when that was announced? 

We were supportive of that. You know, every community is different, and the needs of Frisco have turned out certainly to be very different than the needs of other communities like Dallas or other regions that maybe have public transportation or more dense populations. But here in Frisco, we just weren’t seeing the same level of activity that maybe some other communities have, and we felt pretty strong as a council that giving our business community the right direction as far as how to reopen safely that we could reopen safely, so we are certainly going to be….we were anxious to begin reopening our city and continue to be so to get everything back to 100 percent. 

Q: I know some residents in the state have expressed concern about the timing maybe being early. What were your thoughts on those concerns? 

Well, some communities may not be able to open as quickly as Frisco or other neighborhoods are, just depending on their unique circumstances and the issues that they would need to deal with on an individual business level. From our perspective, we were ready to begin reopening our community and get people back to work and start returning to some sense of normalcy. We feel that’s a better approach, that the healthy in our community and those taking the precautions can move about the city freely following the precautions identified, and then those that are identified as the more vulnerable class, are over 65 or people with underlying health conditions, certainly they should continue to take even stronger precautions. 

Q: Have you visited any businesses since they were allowed to reopen? 

I’ve visited many businesses, yes. 

Q: Do you wear a mask when you go out? 

I do at times, especially when it’s required, and some businesses, it’s required, and others it isn’t. I’ve visited home improvement stores and restaurants, and I got my hair cut yesterday, and so I’ve been out and about through the community just kind of keeping a watchful eye on things and been very proud about how our business community has responded, and again that they’re going above and beyond what’s being asked of them, but, you know, also our residents have responded well as far as following CDC guidelines and social distancing guidelines. 

Q: At the end of March, Business Insider announced that Frisco, Texas had been ranked in a SmartAsset report as the most recession-resistant city in the country. What in your opinion makes Frisco recession-proof? (Note: the study looked at the 264 biggest cities in the country.) 

We have great underlying fundamentals, and that isn’t going to change as far as being an attractive place for businesses to relocate, we think that’s potentially even going to be more prevalent as we move forward. We’re hearing many corporations state that they’re putting less emphasis on moving to areas that do have dense environments and public transportation where in the past, we heard that as maybe something that was scored against us. We think a lot of corporations in the future will say “we want to be in more of a suburban office setting where our employees can live close but not have to rely on public transportation.” so we think that will only continue to help us with the business relocation. We have a very diverse economy as far as we’re not just rooftops, but we do have, obviously, corporations here, we have retail, we have tourism, we’ll see that continue to come back and as business travel and tourism continues to increase, that’s going to only help our small businesses here as visitors start [to] return, and as they start making that bump. But again, having a highly-educated workforce here in our community, very entrepreneurial spirit here, all those factors I think put us in a position where we have the ability to rebound quicker than potentially other communities. 

Q: What steps is Frisco taking to recover from the pandemic, both economically and perhaps socially? 

We started our planning very early. Really, the first of April, we were already starting our plans as far as how we phase in a recovery. So part of that is taking a phased-in approach with our business, which, we’re in the process of right now. We’re kind of on phase one [part] a, and we’ll move to phase two here next week as the governor issues additional orders. So first and foremost, it’s getting our businesses back open and our people feeling safe that they can go out in a safe manner. So that’s kind of step one. We’re working with our state and federal agencies as far as helping our small business community find some funding that’s available, so our Frisco Chamber has really stepped up to be a great asset for us in that regard. The counties have both received money and have worked through the process of helping our small businesses access that money. So that’s a big part of it. But we actually have a full team that was run by Ron Patterson. He kind of stepped away from his role as the director of our Economic Development Corporation to begin those processes to what a recovery would look like. He’s done a great job with that, and we’ll just continue to watch things and encourage people to go out and do so in a safe manner and, again, I think here pretty quickly, we’ll start feeling like there’s a sense of normalcy. We’ve opened all of our city facilities other than The Grove, but made announcements for that. Our Frisco Athletic Center will open here fairly quickly, so it’s about getting everything reopened. Next week, our nonessential office will begin reopening again, so people will start going back to work and working through those kinds of things. 

You know, we’ve really heard the conversation change from our residents, and so now we’re hearing more questions about how quickly can we return to normal activities, when will summer camps come back, and will there be summer baseball, and when can we start congregating. So I do think many of the residents are starting to feel at ease, some of the fears have been calmed, and looking forward to getting back to life. 

Q: Is Frisco thinking about any changes in the long term future in response to COVID-19? 

Yeah, I mean, those are things that I think there will be a lasting impact. I think there’s going to be a lasting impact on how people view their office space, commutes to work, whether you have kind of an A and B shift and how that affects traffic patterns. I think many of the sanitation efforts that have gone into place are here to stay, depending on the businesses. So I do think there will be a lasting impact that we’ll continue to watch and monitor, and we’re going to always look back at 2020 as the year that a lot of these things changed. It changed daily life and how you go about your day. 

Q: Frisco is under two counties. What has it been like to navigate this pandemic as a city in two different counties? 

That was a challenge initially just because both counties took different approaches to how they wanted to handle [it], and at the time the state was giving guidance that it should be a county by county decision. Once the governor stepped in and started making orders statewide, I think that made it a lot easier. I think it was easier for us to move as a region, do things collectively as a region, and so when the governor stepped in, I think that really helped things. 

Q: What has been your biggest learning experience as a mayor through this? 

Well, crisis management. I think a big part of it was to keep everyone uplifted and, you know, that was one of the things that I learned the most about is just the wonderful people here in Frisco and how everyone was raising their hand to how they could help and how it just brought out the best in many of the people that live here. So that was really heartwarming to see. But, you know, we certainly have learned that we have to be prepared for these types of things. I don’t think the answer in the future, should it come back, be that we close down our city. We need to use this reopening process as a way to kind of have phased methods depending on the seriousness of a spread that we could kind of slow things down rather than halt entirely. And so I think there’ll be a lot of things that once we come out of it that we put plans in place should we ever deal with a similar type of event. 

Q: What should residents be focused on right now? 

You know, one of the interesting questions in my dozen daily Zoom calls that I hear from people is what do they not want to go back to normal. So that has been really fascinating to me. And so I think this has changed a lot, people spending more time with their family, cooking more at home, playing card games, doing those types of things and really a lot of people kind of recenter and kind of focus on what’s important to them. And I think that’s the silver lining in this, and so I would say as far as what to focus on is the good that has come out of this situation. How can each and every one of us take something that we’ve learned from the situation and make and make our lives better? And so I hear those stories every single day, and it has been great to hear.