Does anyone else feel like they are living inside of a Stephen King novel? Mostly empty streets, deserted businesses, picked over grocery stores — and no toilet paper — all the hallmarks of your favorite dystopian novel. But of course it is not a dystopia or apocalypse. This is a crisis we will overcome because our world, our nation and our region is resilient. Spending a few days or weeks reconnecting with our families cannot be a bad thing. There is no doubt that our businesses will struggle and our economy will suffer, but remember we are the region whose entire economic foundation — alcohol production — was made illegal overnight and with the stroke of a pen. It might have been our grandparents or great grandparents, but we’ve seen tough times before and are still here to tell those tales.
What does a regional economic development organization do during a crisis like this? First, we are doing all the same things you are doing: working remotely where possible, switching from face-to-face meetings to conference calls, washing our hands. Our role as an organization will change as this situation unfolds, but for the present we have been serving as an information channel. I do not know how COVID-19 stacks up against pandemics of the past, but the volume of information being delivered through traditional and social media is almost numbing. Never have we lived in a time with so many ways to get information and yet so much confusion around what is being said. In conjunction with the Emergency Operation Centers operating throughout the region, GPEDC has been tasked with sharing timely, relevant information with the business community. We have developed a daily bulletin that is shared through chambers of commerce, local economic development organizations, municipal officials and other “voice multipliers” (one person or entity that can share the message with many). We store all this information at a special website: www.gpcovid.com.
But information should be a two way street, and we’ve tried to build both lanes. While the initial efforts have been about sharing with business, we also want to hear from business. Where are they struggling? What resources do they need? What issues or direction are confusing or complicated? We have set up firstname.lastname@example.org as an email address to capture these questions and issues. We will respond directly to these emails the best we can, but more importantly share information gathered with our planning and policy professionals. Please do not hesitate to use that email, or contact me directly, should you need anything.
Remember that are things we can all do to shorten the length and impact of this crisis. Obviously, you should follow all the guidelines about physical distancing, hand washing, and disinfecting. Just as importantly, we need everyone to support our local businesses. At the moment the greatest impact is on the hospitality industry. Please consider continuing your patronage of local businesses — buy dinner for family, buy lunch for the office, suggest that everyone grab a local bite to eat for that noon conference call. Social media might not be great for everything, but there is a whole world of creativity emerging out there that will give you ideas on how to support our local businesses. Find one that works for you. Together, we are stronger. Together, we will overcome this.
Questions, concerns, comments?