COVID-19 Webinar: A Ten-Point Action Plan for Economic Developers

 On April 6, IEDC hosted a webinar entitled “A Ten-Point Action Plan for Economic Developers” in which economic development thought leaders Richard Florida and Steven Pedigo laid out what needs to be done to get states and cities back up and running. 

 The webinar was moderated by Tracye McDaniel, president of TIP Strategies Inc. and immediate past chair of IEDC’s board. The speakers were Richard Florida, Professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and School of Cities Distinguished Visiting Fellow - New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate and author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The New Urban Crisis, and Steven Pedigo, Professor of Practice at the Lyndon B. Johnson of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin.

Richard Florida started off with the encouraging words that cities will survive this crisis. No pandemic, even before the existence of modern medicine, have led to the end of cities. In fact, big cities such as New York City actually grew in the years following the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. 

While Florida and Pedigo are convinced that cities will survive, the COVID-19 pandemic will reshape communities. Florida discussed several factors that might leave a city more vulnerable or protected to a viral outbreak, and how this might affect future changes to cities. Density plays a big role in making a city more vulnerable, as well as age, class, and social capital. This explains why cities in Northern Italy were so impacted by COVID-19. Largely industrial centers, Northern Italian cities have older populations with considerable multi-generational contact. Taking these factors into consideration can also start explaining why New York City is suffering the biggest outbreak in the US so far.

Depending on the duration and the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak, we will see different push factors towards cities or towards suburbs in action.  A push towards the suburbs would be the result of fear of mass transit, a desire for private amenities, such as backyards and play areas, and the increased possibility of remote work. However, we might also see a push towards cities as a fear of mass transit increases demand for walkable and bikeable areas and a return to car commuting causes increased congestions. If air travel restrictions are implemented at any point, this will also lead to a higher demand for urban areas.

 As we are currently in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and have no idea what the second or possibly third wave will look like, Florida warned that economic developers need to plan for the unknown and prepare to get cities back up and running in a safe and secure manner. He spoke of the three phases of recovery:

  1. Mobilization: this is the phase we are currently in, which includes a  lockdown in most locations, as well as a full medical and economic mobilization.
  2. Preparation to re-open safely and securely.
  3. Position economy for long-term recovery.

 To prepare for a safe re-opening and long-term economic recovery Florida outlined the following ten steps (for a more detailed explanation, check out the article written by the presenters:

Asses Leading Industries and Clusters

  • Identify critical pain points in clusters
  • Develop an immediate cluster assessment plan

Enlist and Ready Anchor institutions

  • Engage anchors to boost local purchasing and hiring
  • Assist universities and college to develop action plan for reopening facilities, especially dorms and dining halls retrofitting for social distancing
  • Engage anchors in long-term local economic recovery efforts

Pandemic-proof Airport and Transit Hubs

  • Develop action plan for redesigning for social distancing, health and temperature screenings
  • Evaluate policies for handling bags, security checks, boarding and on ground transport, waiting areas
  • Engage local fashion designers in creating PPE that does not scare off customers

Prepare Large-Scale Civic Assets (such as stadiums, convention centers, and performing arts centers)

  • Create a taskforce to ready civic assets
  • Bring together stakeholder to develop public awareness campaign

Modify Infrastructure and Public Spaces

  • Create a working group to focus stimulus dollars on required retrofits and redesigns
  • Mobilize for retrofitting of public transit assets
  • Open space retrofits and ensure sanitation and cleaning
  • Focus place making initiatives for health and safety
  • Pedestrianizing downtown areas and neighborhoods
  • Partner with providers to increase bike and scooter shares

Prepare for More Remote Work

  • Create a support system for remote workers to engage and connect them to the local community
  • Focus talent recruitment efforts on remote workers

Ensure Main Street Survives

  • Mobilize for financial assistance now
  • Create a task force to pursue creation of small business loans and support programs
  • Create a working group of medical professionals to provide advice on health and wellness protocols
  • Execute an outreach plan to local businesses to ensure awareness of loan program
  • Deploy a “made in…” campaign to promote local businesses and services
  • Partner with anchors to commit to local purchasing

Protect the Arts and Creative Economy

  • Establish a team to marshal funding and technical assistance for arts and cultural organization, including designing for social distancing
  • Convene philanthropic orgs, private donors, and large-scale anchors to support gap financing measures for creative and arts organizations
  • Provide necessary technical assistance for opening
  • Create a micro funding mechanisms to support small-scale community art-based initiatives

Protect Front Line Service Workers

  • Better PPE, higher pay, more benefits
  • Set up a task force of large-scale service employers, grocery stores, delivery services, etc. to provide appropriate wages and benefitsWork with employment offices and workforce providers to mobilize employment
  • Cooperate to design effective and non-obtrusive PPE
  • Encourage community to tip generously

Protect Less-advantaged Communities

  • Partner to develop a coordinated strategy for addressing and mitigating the health-care vulnerability of less advantaged communities
  • Focus efforts of related initiatives and working groups for anchor  institutions and small businesses


The Q&A focused on what economic developers can and should do to steer their communities through this crisis, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida stressed the importance of economic developers and their skills to get through the crisis. Pedigo mentioned communicating with stakeholders and elected officials as an essential step. This is a time to invest in our communities, and in economic development.

As was brought up during the presentation, the lifestyle and industry changes depend on the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. The longer this pandemic lasts, the more changes we will see. Regardless of duration, Florida thinks we will see a change in how airports, transit, and public amenities are seen and used. Industries such as hospitality and tourism, but also oil and gas will be hard hit. Examine your community’s connection to vulnerable industries to decide where to act first. While not a panacea, remote working is an opportunity for less urban areas to supplement their local labor market.  Pedigo also advised economic developers to look at supply chains, as these will become more domestically driven.

In considering economic development tools, Florida and Pedigo believe that incentives will become less useful. Even before the COVID-19 crisis there was little community support for incentives. Now with state and local budgets hard hit, the importance of incentives will diminish. Instead economic developers should focus on workforce and cluster tools, as well as building a resilient local economy.

The COVID-19 crisis is laying bare deep economic disparities in our society, with communities of color being more severely impacted. Florida advised economic developers to work with anchor institutions to cut across this divide and support equitable economic development.

Florida and Pedigo do not think we will see a shift away from urbanization overall, however the balance among cities might change. After the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the top 10 metros didn’t change: New York City and Chicago remained dominant, with Detroit climbing up the list because of its economic propulsion, St. Louis declined even though they handled the pandemic well. Philly stayed number three even though it was devastated. Los Angeles popped up as it was and remains one of the cities with expansive private amenities.  There will definitely be opportunities for smaller metros from COVID-19, as they reposition to attract talent as opposed to industries. 

Pedigo recommended rural communities to take this time to re-examine and think about what they can export. Many rural communities have in recent years found a niche in tourism that might no longer be sustainable. A good place to start would be engaging anchors, focusing on remote work, promoting quality of place, and addressing infrastructure issues.


In the face of this outbreak, we’ve heard more about moving supply chains back home. In our effort to do this though we should include our international partners to build redundant supply chains in the US.


Florida expects the real estate market to be hard hit, especially commercial. Multi-family developments will have to re-think public and shared amenities. Single-family home market might experience a boom, with closer suburbs losing their premium. Rural areas might also become higher in demand. We might also see a push toward changes in land use code toward more open space.


On a closing note, Florida believed the silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic could be a turn away for hyperindividualism and hyperconsumerism. If we continue cooperating, social distancing, and following the rules we could look back on this in two, three years as a public health miracle. We can still prevent this from becoming a catastrophe, and instead become a beacon for a new civic-mindedness.


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