At a meeting of the Economic Development Committee at the Greater New Haven (CT) Chamber on March 11th, we were grappling with the impacts of COVID-19, before the first US death. In just 18 days later there have been over 2,000 deaths plus tens of thousands of infected people. Communities are shutting everything down, businesses are closing, over 100,000 people in CT have filed for unemployment insurance and our community businesses including local and regional sectors are devastated, and that’s in little over a 6+ weeks!. Nobody knows when things will turn around but most agree it won’t be anytime soon.
I can’t imagine the anxiety that small businesses have regarding the impact of COVID-19 on their business operations. I can’t believe how fast 100,000 people lost their jobs in CT. No matter what industry they are in, it will impact their bottom line, their employees and perhaps their very survival.
Our chief elected officials at every level are managing a health care and economic crisis. There are hundreds of emails out there telling us about the health issues, how to work remote, where to borrow money, etc. The incoming information is voluminous and changes daily.
Economic Developers support our Mayors by sharing important information on relief programs and services with the small businesses community and general population. But is this the best use of our time? Can we do something more sustainable, after all we are planners at heart. We develop the game plan and execute it. How we conduct ourselves now will help preserve confidence and will help rebuild when it is time.
We must be resilient.The future of economic development is dependent on partnerships within our business sectors and with our local advocates such as the Hamden Regional Chamber of Commerce. While we are facing the health crisis,economic developers have to think aboutplanning for the crisis and the day aftereverything settles down. How we act every day going forward will determine the speed of economic recovery and normality….and yes we will recover if we prepare for theday after!
What is resiliency?It has many definitions but let’s just say it is about how we respond to a crisis and how we will come back when things get back to a new normal, one that we will inevitably face. Recovery won’t magically happen. It can happen most effectively if we begin to plan now.
At this Chamber meeting, we discussed the concept for resiliency planning not knowing what the reaction would be and most of 30+ people there became actively engaged, offering many good ideas. Almost all of them were in the private sector. That tells me we need to tab this important place of creative energy.
Over the next several months, we must share ideas on how we can be resilient. This means planning in areas such as:
How can we make sure factual information about health and safety can be made part of a business health and safety plan going forward (as opposed to just following a law)? This involves preparing for future pandemics and other disruptions.
How do we assess the damage to businesses following a disaster?
How do we raise money from donors, foundations etc.?
How we can help the workforce get back to work and how do we engage our key business sectors to help them do so?
How can volunteerism become part of economic development?
How we can encourage use and confidence again in public transportation?
How we can we support day care providers so they can help the workforce?
How to more effectively use technology to plan for remote working and lessen the impact on the energy system and public spaces?
How can we help our real estate market recover from what may be a downturn?
How we plan for land-use and building permitting so that it becomes on-line everywhere?
How we can celebrate success?
How we tell the story about the heros such as our health care workers and first responders, not just when we have a crisis? Hint, this is a workforce development issue.
How we can use education, civility, listening and empathy as tools for working together?
There are many more ideas out there. A lot of them may come through a specific economic sector and others by a Cluster based approach. At the local level it is critical to stay engaged. Our Chambers and other partners can be really helpful and resourceful because their members know what will help them sustain themselves during and following a crisis like COVID-19. They have boots on the ground.