by Cecilia Harry, IEDC Board Member
As more positive cases of COVID-19 popped up in El Paso County, Colorado and elected officials started to make hard decisions about social distancing and essential employers, leadership in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado knew one thing: collaboration was what would help the region weather this pandemic with the least damage to public health and the economy as possible.
Dirk Draper, president and CEO and Cecilia Harry, CEcD, chief economic development office at the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corporation (EDC) sprung into action to facilitate the collaboration and data collection that would be critical to response, relief, and recovery.
Within a week of the first positive case in El Paso County, the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC had convened a group of community partners to develop a region-wide business survey. Leaders representing several perspectives and disciplines, including the business community, municipal partners, workforce partners, and the non-profit community agreed that understanding the concerns of the business community would maximize the impact of early intervention programs, but they also knew survey fatigue was likely and so, released one locally endorsed survey. Preliminary data was shared with community partners and leaders in late March 2020 and released to the public April 1, 2020. The results helped establish and refine several response and relief programs, including a philanthropically funded low-interest loan program for small businesses, resources and trainings for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and services and relief for newly unemployed individuals and their families.
Existing collaboration among community leaders and the early success of coordinated efforts around data collection and response to the business community was a catalyst for the next frontier of responding to the pandemic: sustained recovery and resiliency efforts for the business community. The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC launched a group called the COVID-19 Regional Recovery Council to create a multi-disciplinary team for a coordinated effort for resumption of economic activity as well as review of and recommendations for short- and long-term policies and programs to accelerate regional economy recovery.
Disciplines represented in the Regional Recovery Council include: economic development, municipal government, destination marketing, public health, workforce, education, non-profit and philanthropy, community development, and economics. Committees meet and report to the Regional Recovery Council to make room for more perspectives and progress on issues like supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs and tackling issues related to child care and parents re-entering the workforce.
Central Communication Point with Department of Public Health
The El Paso County Department of Public Health embraced the opportunity to interface regularly with the business community. Furthermore, the early engagement of the public health perspective brought timely, factual information to the business community and general public through coordination of public health messaging across partners. The Regional Recovery Council provided space for public health and economic interests to come together and work on solutions that took multiple perspectives into account. A fruitful result of this collaboration was a multi-pronged variance designed to help businesses across several industry/service categories reopen as safely and quickly as possible in accordance with the Safer at Home Public Health Order issued by Governor Jared Polis.
Additional cross-discipline solutions that emerged from the Regional Recovery Council include:
- Mentoring, resources, and training for the small business community
- Tools for individuals and companies to acclimate to telecommuting
- Data-informed solutions connecting unemployed persons with training and job opportunities
- Space to talk about and seek educational opportunities around recent unrest and discord around racial disparity in the United States
- Preparations for back-to-school risk reduction
- Safety pledge promotion to boost tourism
- Customized support and access to resources for existing businesses, including larger employers
From Boosting Recovery to Planning for Resiliency
The Regional Recovery Council will continue to meet regularly through the pandemic and economic downturn to anticipate needs, develop multi-disciplinary solutions, and cross-promote important information, programs, and results. Like other communities who have created multi-disciplinary response committees in times of disasters, the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC plans to morph this group into a Business Continuity Council to stay connected and refine disaster preparedness plans to enhance resiliency and recovery for the next natural or man-made disaster that affects the Pikes Peak economy.
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