Try and fail. Try again, but course-correct. Ditherers are not respected among economic development and tourism professionals.
Some simple advice shared during Blane Canada’s BR|E COVID-19 Response Network webinar on April 2, 2020. Since mid March, the network (blanecanada.com/bre-covid-19) has grown beyond 300 economic development organizations. Formed voluntarily to determine the business and human impact of COVID-19 in communities, business impact surveys were created for local economic developers to gather solid business and worker impact data to inform local leadership’s response to COVID-19.
But even as the surveying continues, economic development professionals cannot wait.
“You have to act,” said Joe Raso, President and CEO of Greater Fargo Moorehead Economic Development (gfmedc.com).
“You gotta go to know, and just try things and not wait for permission from the governor or the mayor, or anybody else, because people are really looking for organizations that are being leaders and trying things and course correcting.”
Regional business task force
GFMEDC brought together over 40 partners to create a regional business task force, including businesses, non-profits, utilities, government administrators and politicians.
The task force is divided into five sections: on data, communications, business engagement , financial support, and workforce. Teams of people with expertise — not just interest in each of those areas — meet constantly and then as a group every Friday morning.
“Instead of saying ‘hey wash your hands and distance yourselves’, I think we all already know that,” Raso said. “How can we really be helping our businesses at this critical juncture who are looking for people who want to lead. So it’s I think partly our role to lead in these kinds of situations.”
Dangers of over-communication
One of the first things Fargo learned was that communicating too much information and over-surveying businesses can be unhelpful.
“We’re all receiving a million emails and texts on things that are happening … but one thing we’ve already learned is that the business community is really not set to deal with all the changes of the programming that are coming out at the federal and state levels.”
Being able to parse the data and find gaps in business needs quickly and effectively is essential.
In the case of Fargo, survey data showed at least half the companies haven’t talked to their lender, which can become a problem. Understanding that reality and brainstorming solutions can help address the issue.
Leadership is essential
Unfortunately, economic development professionals can be pulled away from their regular duties into emergency response initiatives. It makes sense, since these professionals are great communicators and problem-solvers.
But now is the time for economic development and tourism officials to harness the expertise of their businesses and other agencies to execute a plan to address the impact of COVID-19 on your local economy.
(By the way, Blane Canada is looking for a Canadian organization to help populate business impact data. Contact them for more info.)
Other examples of those who are acting