As economic developers start to pivot from the triage work of reaching out to existing businesses and connecting them with business resources, the big question is, “What should we focus on now to most favorably position our community for the future?”

None of us expected a global pandemic, and for most of us, the immediate impacts are mixed at best. How this plays out in our families, businesses, and communities is yet to be determined. That level of uncertainty is not something we are used to as business and community leaders.

There is a saying which is timely here: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It may be hard to contemplate now, but great change creates great opportunity. Let’s make sure that amidst the daily struggle, we keep our bearings and steer our communities to a spot that will be advantageous for years to come.

Here are some thoughts on how to do that in this environment:

  • Diagnose.  The goal is a solid understanding of the impact this economic disruption has caused to your community. In our work with communities, we include several baseline measures of economic risk, changes in economic activity, and changes in local economic indicators. Traditional business retention and expansion (BRE) interviews are not well suited for the high frequency and breadth of topics that need to be covered now. Pulse surveys are better suited to supplement personal contacts. These metrics will be integrated into clients’ dashboards and tracked going forward.
  • Diversify.  This extreme economic stress reveals risks and weaknesses in a community’s mix of retail, tourism and industry, as well as within these categories. Now is the time to focus on predictive work to determine the impact these disruptions will have on target industries. That will allow you to update marketing strategies to pivot away from certain areas and toward others presenting opportunities. Business recruitment and foreign direct investment are still viable strategies for many communities whose industrial base is adaptable to the new economic realities.
  • Talent.  In addition to retaining, expanding, and recruiting businesses, EDOs are now officially responsible for retaining, retraining and recruiting talent. There are many segments to the talent pool, and each weighs factors like housing, broadband, transportation, and childcare differently. We’re helping EDOs tackle these opportunities by using evidence-based approaches aligned with the priorities and assets important to the talent they hope to retain and attract.

This information and so much more comes together to power an economic development strategic plan. Given the massive changes that are sure to come from this pandemic you should at least revisit yours, if not revise it, no matter how recently it was created. Depending on the dynamics of your community, this plan may focus just on the efforts of the ED team, or also bring tourism, CVBs, Chambers, Main Street programs, education, and other stakeholders into the fold for a true community plan.

Let there be no mistake as to the importance of how you choose to move forward. The decisions you make today will determine your community’s success for the next generation. Don’t fear change, embrace it, and use it to consider things that weren’t even on the table two months ago.

These circumstances call for leaders that think and act boldly. For the sake of our communities, we can and must rise to meet the moment. Then hold on tight, because the future belongs to you.

If you are ready to start thinking about what’s next to help position your region for the future, Ady Advantage can be there to help. We are happy to share our thoughts, trends we are seeing, what other regions are doing in response to the crisis, etc. and help you figure out what the best next steps are for your community.