We know you're wondering what impact this unprecedented situation will have on your funding stream, your community's economic future, and your organization's role in that future. We don't pretend to have all the answers or guaranteed solutions. Our crystal ball is just as blurry as yours is. Nevertheless, we feel compelled to offer you - our clients and friends - some encouragement and guidance based on what we do know from over forty years of experience, many of which were witness to local and national downturns, recessions, crises, and... recoveries.
Your community and organization are going to emerge from this pandemic in better shape than many others. Why? Because your strategic initiative (multi-year plan) was deliberately designed for flexibility, capable of reacting quickly to opportunities, and effectively responding to threats. Once the "all clear" sounds, you will find that two inherent characteristics of your strategic initiative will prove invaluable:
- Good leaders who have been engaged in shaping and funding your community development strategy are even more essential now. They are the best of your community and will respond to a call to action, bringing wisdom, ideas, and solutions with them.
- An action plan that was crafted with strong buy-in to address priorities with funding allocated accordingly. Those priorities may now have changed for your community and your organization. It will soon be time to consider W.I.N. - "What's Important NOW?"
Of course there will be challenges, but also opportunities. Like you, we've heard many "experts" offering predictions and advice about economic and community development in a post Covid-19 world. Some that we think merit awareness and consideration by leaders like you and organizations like yours:
- Robust investments in core business assistance programs
- Rural communities: broadband infrastructure
- Renewed commitment to localism
- Reshoring / supply chain opportunities
- New thinking about talent
- Primacy of LOCAL efforts (not Federal or State)
- Time to "double down"... time to invest!
- Logistics / Warehousing / Supply Chain changes
- Edge cities and smaller metros as destinations for remote workers
- Economic development toolkit will change: incentives will be less useful; Governors working together; others...
- Workforce: innovative and "one-off" programs that can be ramped up quickly
- EDO's should play a role in discussions of "governance of data privacy"
- There will be opportunities to attract new Foreign Direct Investment
- Growth industries: "monitoring" and "retrofitting"
- "With strategy and intent, rural areas could benefit a lot"
- Opportunities to improve relationships with anchor institutions
Some funding advice and observations for not only surviving, but
in the wake of the current crisis:
- Communicate clearly (and often) with investors about how you are continuing to deliver your mission - the job they have invested in you to do, and the impacts you continue to pursue. If you talk about "overhead and operations" you will be focusing on the wrong things. Your investors understand that your core mission is growing the economy and sustaining prosperity. This is not a charitable endeavor. If your work does not succeed, the whole community will struggle further to recover from this time of economic turbulence. You are needed now more than ever!
- Speaking of charitable endeavors, non-profits in your community will certainly be impacted and key sources of funding may be inclined to focus on their needs. You should and can support these organizations and causes without necessarily conceding your own importance and resource needs. Perhaps you can help convene a task force which may organize collective community efforts to assist and prioritize charitable causes. Maybe even encourage and "broker" new partnerships and collaborations among organizations. It should also be noted that (as of today) 501(c)(3) organizations are eligible for more avenues of Federal relief and assistance than 501(c)(6) organizations. ACCE, IEDC and others are working to change that.
- Transparency and action regarding financial realities are essential. Do not assume that investors will fail to honor their financial commitments. You can expect some impact on cash flow but it may not be as negative as you fear (one of our clients just received a new multi-year pledge this week!). However, at the first signs of faltering pledge fulfillment, immediately reach out to those affected, perhaps even to an entire business sector if appropriate , to offer extended payment options. Consider offering deferment of pledge payments until the next quarter, or longer, if necessary. Only in extreme and regrettable cases will an investor be unable or unwilling to fulfill a pledge. Public sector funding will likely diminish in the near term and you may need to prepare accordingly if local government is a major source of your funding. But your work is critical to bringing their revenues back, so you should maintain strong relationships and open lines of communication.
- Depending on how long or how severe the economic shocks are felt in your community, it may be wise to extend the implementation of your strategic initiative. Depending on what year you are in with your implementation cycle, an additional year may be needed to reach anticipated goals and economic results. Your major investors should be closely involved in making this decision.
- Cut the cloth to fit the pattern. In the coming weeks, as the smoke clears (and your crystal ball becomes a little clearer) you will know when to call a meeting to consider re-prioritizing elements of your plan and organizational focus. At inception, funding allocations were aligned with community needs and priorities. Depending on what the new normal is in your community, this may be the time to reassess priority needs and opportunities, and align anticipated funding accordingly.
Keep up the good work! In the past four decades, we've watched leaders like you lead their communities and our nation in response to recessions, gas shortages, terrorist attacks, dot com bubbles, and real estate crashes. We are genuinely proud of the local communities and their business leaders who rallied behind organizations like yours to weather those storms. By challenging your business community to embark on a multi-year economic development strategy, you are well-positioned to ensure your community comes out of this crisis more resilient and prosperous than many others. We have been impressed by and salute the work of so many of you who, with no advance warning and no instruction manual or comparable experience, have so competently led your community's response to this crisis. In fact, YOUR webinars, conference calls, Zoom meetings, and links to resources have proved invaluable for our own efforts to monitor events, understand the implications, and access information and assistance. We are truly grateful for your diligence and expertise. And by what you are doing now, you are validating your primacy, value, and importance to your community (and not just to your members)!
We are here to help. As you navigate the current uncertainties, we are happy to share, discuss, or brainstorm - anytime. NCDS is here for you now, just as we have been for so many communities and organizations these past 43 years, and we're available to do anything we can to assist you and your leaders.