Tips from the COVID-19 TrenchesMarch 25, 2020
5 Economic Developers Across North America Report Best Practices in IEDC Covid-19 Webinar
More than 1,500 people from economic development organizations (EDOs) across the nation tuned into an IEDC webinar on March 23 to address how communities across North America are mobilizing in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
Moderated by Invest in Atlanta President and CE0 Dr. Eloisa Klementich, the panel included Bill Allen, President and CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation; Mike Williams, General Manager of Economic Development and Culture for the City of Toronto; Jeff Sjostrom, President of the Galveston Economic Development Partnership and Mike Grella, who was Director of Economic Development at Amazon for seven years before founding Grella Partnership Strategies.
Described by one panelist as the “greatest economic development challenge of our lifetimes,” the pandemic has EDOs in unchartered waters playing pivotal roles in coalescing a coordinated response to the impact of the crisis. Although each community is grappling with its own set of issues, these common themes emerged during the webinar:
Be a Centralized Resource: Several communities have created a “war room” where all the key players including EDOs, chambers, destination marketing organizations, universities, industry councils, business associations for ethnic groups and others can coordinate and communicate rapidly with one another. Some are developing a centralized database of the federal, state and local resources that businesses can tap into for help. Others have created job portals to connect residents who are unemployed with companies that are hiring. Smaller and more rural communities are leaning on regional partners rather than trying to reinvent the wheel themselves. The mantra? Amplify rather than duplicate efforts.
Partner with Social Services: Since immigrants and undocumented workers are among the most vulnerable, several talked about being as “flexible and inclusive” as possible by partnering with social service and other organizations. In Toronto, the city has a long history of working closely with the United Way and this crisis is no exception. They have set up “captain’s tables” in each of their city’s 11 zones so that every community resource that exists within each of those geographies is identified and there is a very short period of time between when a need is uncovered and help is given.
Find Funding to Keep Afloat: Immediate assistance to workers and small businesses will likely be supplied initially by local and regional coalitions of governments, nonprofits, larger businesses and philanthropies. Cash is king in the short term, while the government figures out if some of the CBDG and SBA funding will be forgivable loans or grants.
Following past disasters caused by powerful hurricanes, Galveston found that a coalition of community lenders offered the best short-term relief with low-interest loans that they offered across the board to their customers. The banks reinvested more than $40 million in the Galveston business community while they were waiting for SBA and other loans to kick in. The Economic Development Administration is also a critical resource for disaster recovery grants, according to Sjostrom.
Leverage Data: It’s critical to understand exactly what’s happening in your community by harnessing the power of data analytics, Grella stressed. Reassess the situation regularly using tools now on the market or for free so that you are working with facts rather than guesses to curate “hyper-local” programs that can be used to apply for federal funds.
Plan for Recovery Now: Although most communities are focused on survival now, it’s important to think about resilience for the future. The EDOs agreed that more needs to be done to ensure that small businesses do more to address business continuity moving forward. Communities also need to think ahead to how business will be “reinvented” post-Covid with more reshoring, a move to domestic manufacturing to protect the supply chain, and omnichannel retail presenting huge opportunities for new economic clusters rippling all the way from the factory floor to the last mile of the delivery. Communities need to be prepared to “carpe diem.”