Successful Reopening Requires Preparation and Planning
2 Jun 2020
Successful Reopening Preparation and Planning
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our economy to the side of the road with over 26 million unemployment claims and a near $3 trillion relief and response aid package. But there are signs of recovery and we should be looking at moving forward. Deep in the belly of our economic engine, one can hear turning gears and economic combustion. As we prepare to restart the engine and help communities get back on the road to recovery, there are steps that need to be taken to prepare for a smooth transition.
The current guidelines from federal, state, and local communities do not open the economy at once. This progression of phases is designed to protect people, build consumer confidence, and get people back to work. Although most will agree the sooner the better, the reality is that community leaders will face a lot of uncertainty and obstacles ahead. Therefore, our community leaders need to put a communication plan and action steps in place to help businesses reopen.
Too often, civic leaders forget that entrepreneurs and business owners do not have time to monitor government guidelines, announcements, and press conferences. Business owners are running their business and working on daily tasks and business operations. Community leaders must overcommunicate to business owners and workers so they have the most current information available.
This requires planning, execution, and diligence.
To help you think through the reopening phase, this article presents seven steps to consider in your planning process.
Steps to reopen:
1. Prepare a communications plan
As a leader in your community, you can help facilitate the reopening of local businesses and places of employment by acting as a conduit of helpful information. Make your website and social media channels the go-to-places where people can find out what's happening. This communication strategy helps communicate realistic expectations and deflate tension at the same time.
Start with a needs assessment survey that establishes a baseline of what information and resources will be needed by your business community. From that survey, establish goals and a communications timeline and schedule.
Now is a great time to reimagine your website design and economic development communications strategy. Start with a solid communication foundation and build your future.
2. Embrace and attract remote workers
Offices will eventually open fully. Today, however, we are in the middle of a remote working surge and workers and companies are experiencing teleworking success. To leverage these workers, communities need to provide remote working information and support this segment of workers. Tulsa, OK has initiated a successful remote worker strategy: Tulsa Remote.
3. Mom and pop stores need help
No matter the online capabilities presented to commerce, it is imperative that main street businesses survive and thrives beyond the COVID crisis. The loss of these shops and the jobs associated will block economic development funds that flow directly to our community.
It will be difficult, but communities must protect small businesses and main street commerce to build a foundation for recovery that is sustainable. Citizens may be living on teleconferencing venues today, but they are ready to return to the amenities and shops in their towns. Don't let those shops perish.
4. Don't let the starving artists become collateral damage.
Part of the recovery plan must ensure that community culture and the expression of that culture is preserved, and the creative economy must survive. This creative economy is reliant on the successful recovery of capitalism and strong commerce and cannot generate revenue using the mechanisms of private industry. However, the creative economy is critical to supporting the private economy and the citizens of a community.
5. Evaluate strengths and weaknesses of all industries
If you have not done an industry or cluster analysis for your community and region, now is the right time to dust off the data. Online commerce and healthcare industries will grow with the pandemic, but other industries like tourism, hospitality, and transportation will suffer disproportionality. This virus attacks vulnerable humans as well as vulnerable businesses.
Every person and every sector in your community will feel the effects of this pandemic and economic downturn, but civic leaders must assess the areas most in need of support. Vulnerable industries like museums and recreation centers play an important part in the total asset package for a community. They are the color of the community and attract diversity and creativity.
6. Don't forget about the retail workers and first responders
One lesson from the 2008 Great Recession was that economic recovery will not be distributed equally according to socio-economic demographics or geographic boundaries. Employers will need assistance to protect this class of workers. Additionally, these workers, who don't have the option of working from remote locations, will need assistance with childcare and other essential services to maintain their family structure and economic stability.
7. Protect vulnerable and less-advantaged communities
Neighborhoods still recovering from the 2008 Great Recession will lag even further in this recovery. Wage loss and healthcare benefit loss will stifle economic growth and widen the wealth gap. In January 2020, Opportunity Zone momentum was providing needed investment and commercial real estate growth for communities lagging in economic growth. That activity has stalled as the pandemic swept across the country. However, the investment must come back and the housing and commercial real estate must find its way to economically distressed neighborhoods.
Don't let the second half of the year get away from you. This is an optimal time to reevaluate your website development and communications strategy. Like many economic developers, you have been looking for time to reassess your website, social media, and overall branding. This is that time.
Now more than ever, communication will build trust and relationships with business owners and consumers. With all the misinformation spread daily, people are seeking truthful, simple messages to help them navigate these times of uncertainty. Give your audience what they want - clear communication.
Lastly, we need to call upon our Federal and State leaders to provide clearer and thoughtful local regulations and guidance. Businesses will need a less restrictive regulatory structure to reopen and to revive their consumer base. While it is important to heed the thoughtful advice of health professionals, we must also consult economic advisors and business professionals who can weigh the entire reopening process.
No matter what science or data projection model is consulted, we must accept the risk and different levels of confidence to reopen. The COVID virus will not only be completely conquered and that should not be our goal. But humans are resilient and we can manage the virus and learn to co-exist with this biological threat. More importantly, with the right shared resolve, we can reclaim our economic growth and build a new future that rectifies the wrongs of the past.