by Lauren Duke, IEDC Fellow
Last week, IEDC hosted a webinar titled “Planning and Next Steps for Dual Disasters,” during which economic development professionals discussed disaster planning during an extremely active hurricane season and the ongoing economic challenges posed by COVID-19. The webinar was moderated by Mickie Valente of Valente Strategic Advisors, located in Saint Petersburg, Florida. The event also featured a discussion between Christine Bryant, CEcD, from Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation in Texas, and Ada Clark of the Emerald Coast Regional Council in Destin, Florida.
The discussion centered around each respective community’s disaster planning and recovery strategy. Both communities narrowly missed each of the hurricanes that passed through the Gulf Coast in late August, and they each have previous experiences with managing economic development after natural disasters.
Corpus Christi, TX
Christine Bryant began the discussion by outlining Corpus Christi’s approach to disaster recovery and community resilience. She highlighted the regional collaboratives along the Texas Coast, particularly the ones formed by survey distribution and economic impact studies. By sending regular surveys to a 10-county network, the economic impact of COVID-19 as well as the region’s preparedness for natural disasters was analyzed by university partners. Christine emphasized the importance of this regional collaboration. Publishing the data and conclusions may help communities prepare disaster recovery plans well in advance rather than days before or even after a disaster.
In Destin, Florida, where the primary economic drivers are tourism and the military, Ada Clark recognizes that her community is especially susceptible to natural disasters. Because tourism was profoundly impacted by the pandemic as storefronts and public attractions faced closures, the Emerald Coast Regional Council sought to prepare for any and all circumstances while capitalizing on their still available resources. While economic impact reports may indicate that her community is suffering, Ada emphasized the importance of disaster recovery and business continuity plans in contributing to a successful revitalization. Without these plans, Destin and other coastal communities would still be in the same economic shape as at the start of the pandemic while facing the challenges of hurricane season.
When asked about what practices from COVID-19 recovery are also being applied to hurricane preparedness and recovery, both speakers identified broadband as essential to keep a damaged economy afloat and productive. A focus on broadband allows businesses to operate without a storefront, which has been the case due to community closures amidst the pandemic and physical store damage from natural disasters.
The panel discussed collaboration and communication with stakeholders as the primary aspect of a successful disaster recovery plan. By setting up lines of communication and finding out what businesses and neighboring communities need well in advance, disaster recovery can move quickly and effectively.