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Disaster Zone: Kick-Starting Economic Recovery

June 1, 2020  by  Eric Holdeman
Category:  Planning COVID-19 Guest Author

Disaster Zone: Kick-Starting Economic Recovery

Local governments have been dealing with a variety of needs and impacts due to the coronavirus Stay Home - Stay Healthy order from Governor Inslee. The great news is that those efforts at social distancing have been working, with Washington State being spared the most severe impacts of COVID-19. That journey is still not over, and we must stay the course in the weeks and months to come.

While we have come through some challenging weeks, the next step we must be prepared for is bringing our local economies back from the brink. The clock is ticking for our small to medium-sized businesses, and with every passing day their future financial viability becomes more questionable.

In planning for the recovery after a disaster much of the work that has been done in the past has centered on recovery from physical damages to buildings and our critical infrastructure. In this COVID-19 disaster the majority of damage being done is to the economy via impacts to businesses and their employees.

Get Moving

While some analysis of the impacts of the coronavirus is needed, there can be a tendency by some academics to want to just study these impacts. However, we don’t want the study of business impacts to turn into an 'autopsy of businesses' that won't survive because of government inaction or dawdling.

My purpose in writing is to suggest that jumpstarting the economic recovery for business is key, and speed of action is critical. Every day wasted in deliberations means more and more small businesses will eventually fail or just never reopen. Disaster research has shown that 40% of businesses that are closed for three weeks or more will eventually fail.

Recovery Goals

For any of the suggested actions above there is a myriad list of possibilities that you can take based on your own individual situations. For example, if building permits backlogged — break the logjam to put people back to work. Can you reestablish farmers markets by enforcing appropriate social distancing guidelines in accordance with the governor’s guidelines?

Large businesses with deep pockets will likely survive without local action. It is the small to medium-sized businesses that should be your focus. One of the roles of leadership is providing hope to those who are suffering. Celebrate even small successes by sharing them with others so that the torrent of news is not always what is failing, but also what is succeeding. Saving Local is an initiative of the City of Tukwila to help support local businesses. This program “provides an opportunity for stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues across King County to promote special offers and generate cashflow while their businesses remain closed or restricted due to public health guidelines.”

To know what businesses are facing you must be in communications with them. See, for example, the results of a COVID-19 Business Survey conducted by Business Oregon, Travel Oregon, and the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network to gather information on the economic impacts of COVID-19. Economic recovery is not just the role of your local chambers of commerce. Connecting with business owners and establishing ongoing communications will be key to understanding their individual situations and what predicaments they might be facing based on the financial health of thier business.  

I’m not suggesting that you “just try anything” that sounds good but waiting for some grand plan to emerge is a recipe for wasting the precious time we do have available for our communities. Federal funding is helpful and needed, but it in itself is not the total solution.

Begin Virtual Meetings of Key Leaders

One way to move forward is to formulate ‘virtual meetings’ of key leaders, including local government officials, business leaders, nonprofit heads, community leaders, and heads of faith-based organizations. Rallying community support for your local businesses is another strategy. Sharing best practices between small businesses so they have a network of people and ideas that are working can help many hang on while the economy rebuilds. For example, Island County recently formed an economic recovery task force comprised of local leaders to begin the hard work of safely reopening their local economy.

Where are the future business opportunities? One area I can guarantee that will flourish in the near term is the federal government’s intention to bring back to the United States the manufacturing of items that had, over time, become imported commodities, including the essential medical supplies now in short supply nationwide. All the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that is so dramatically reported on in the news could be manufactured right here in Washington State. Is there a small, local IT startup whose leaderships thinks they have a better or at least a different solution for video teleconferencing? What other opportunities might emerge from this crisis?

We have common problems that need uncommon solutions. Let’s get to work!

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Eric Holdeman

Eric is a nationally known emergency manager and consultant. He has 28 years of emergency management experience, having served at the federal, state (Washington), and local government (King County) level, as well as in the nonprofit sector. He is the Principal for Eric Holdeman and Associates and serves the Director for the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience, which is part of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER).

He is a prolific writer, authoring numerous articles for professional journals and opinion pieces for local, regional and national newspapers including the Washington Post. He is a Senior Fellow and contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine, where he blogs about emergency management and homeland security at Eric also hosts the Disaster Zone podcast.

Eric is writing as a guest author. The views expressed in guest columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.



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