Disaster Preparedness • Economic Recovery • Resilience

Volunteers Play a Key Role in IEDC’s Recovery Efforts

Owners of the historic Mangrove Mama’s, built in 1909, Dane and Ivana Wisnowsky were interviewed by Adam Grinold (right).

Photo by Amber K. Pattillo

Adam Grinold volunteer profile

Adam Grinold, Executive Director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, fits the profile of a special kind of high-level IEDC volunteer. He is a veteran economic developer who has lived first-hand through a disaster in his own back yard — and who then taps that experience to bring an unusual level of commitment and expertise to help another community recover.

In Grinold’s case, the home-state disaster was Tropical Storm Irene, which struck Vermont in September 2011. The United States’ twelfth costliest hurricane, causing over $13.5 billion in damages, Irene careened up the East Coast after making first landfall in North Carolina’s Outer Banks on August 27. Two days later, the hurricane struck Vermont. Virtually all the rivers and streams in the state flooded. Grinold’s home town of Wilmington was particularly hard hit, where a branch of the Deerfield River reached levels not seen since the devastating 1938 New England Hurricane. Travel across the Southern part of the state became nearly impossible. All told, the damage to roads and bridges in Vermont approached $1 billion.

Fortunately for the state, there was an impressive relief effort following Irene. Within a month, most of the closed roads and damaged bridges were repaired. Construction crews and highway workers arrived from all parts of New England, particularly New Hampshire and Maine. Federal disaster relief came relatively quickly. By the end of the year, Vermont was well on its way to recovery.

This experience of an effective response to a major disaster was not lost on Grinold, and it came at an important time in his life. Even before Irene, he was transitioning from being a businessman and entrepreneur, and moving towards becoming an economic development professional.

In 2008, Grinold had sold the family business he managed–a large country inn with a 95-person restaurant–and became a fulltime real estate professional. Then came Irene. People noticed Grinold’s energy, broad experience in business and housing, and his commitment to development in Southern Vermont. In 2012, the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce in Wilmington appointed Grinold, a former president of the organization, as its interim executive director. In 2013 he entered into a short-term contract to serve as the executive director for Wilmington Works, Wilmington’s newly created Downtown Designated Organization. Finally, in 2014, he joined the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, where is currently its Executive Director.

Then, last September, Irma ravaged the Florida Keys, making landfall on September 10, 2017. Damage in the Keys exceeded $50 billion.

The International Economic Development Council asked Grinold to join a group of volunteers and IEDC staff, which traveled to the Keys in May 2018, eight months after the hurricane. The team was tasked with doing a Keys-wide business assessment, with a view to helping Monroe County, their five chambers of commerce and other key stakeholders develop more concrete plans for long-term recovery. This included identifying ideas from businesses for types of help they need. Not all areas in the Keys were affected equally, with the southernmost parts, near where the hurricane made landfall, hit the hardest.

Grinold says that the challenge in the Keys was daunting, testing his skills. Many of the damaged buildings in the portion of the Keys where the hurricane made landfall had been older housing and businesses that were either on the beach or at the lowest elevations.  Given this, banks typically refused to lend money for rebuilding.

Perhaps most crippling was the damage to workforce housing post-Hurricane Irma, which caused many residents to leave the area, leaving businesses with fewer workers.

For Grinold, an especially difficult phase of the recovery occurred after the debris had been cleared and dramatic disaster stories no longer dominated the news. “There’s that awful stage where so many people who have come down to deal with the initial crisis have gone away,” he says. “That’s when organizations need to demonstrate leadership to survive and thrive.”

Several takeaways stand out for Grinold. First, after any major disaster, there is a need for more regional cooperation, something which helped Vermont following Irene. “The focus must include not only the localities, but the region and eventually the whole state,” he said.

Another important lesson, Grinold says, is the key role played by the commitment and passion of local business and community leaders working together. In this respect, Grinold sees a similarity between the energy and camaraderie following Irene in 2011, and that in the Keys following Irma in 2017. “The conchs,” Grinold says, using the local term for the permanent residents of the Florida Keys, “speak with total commitment and passion. They will leverage all they’ve got to put humpty dumpty back together again.”

Grinold also urges developers, government, and businesses to appreciate and value the role of volunteers. “Volunteers are crucial to helping a place hit by disaster muck things out. At their best they have the energy and networks help to get more people to show up to help.”  And that works both ways, he concludes, “because volunteers walk away from recovery efforts being fed to do more.”