As the world grapples with the new realities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, many economic development organizations are playing a key leadership role in guiding their communities through these uncertain times. In the Greater Grand Rapids Region, The Right Place, Inc. is actively implementing an integrated strategy to address our community’s fast-changing needs related to the virus. The following is a list of several tactics that could be transferable to your community as you navigate this pandemic.
1. Be a centralized expert source for important communications. A massive volume of information is currently being shared by multiple parties, and it is all changing by the minute. Cut through the noise on behalf of your business community and create a central location for the most critical information related to COVID-19. For example, The Right Place has created a dedicated blog channel to house the latest updates. This channel is being used as both an internal resource to keep our business development managers and other outward facing employees up-to-date, as well as an external resource for the broader community. We have shared this channel through our organization’s social media and email channels, and our team and community partners are sharing it directly as well. Having one central link to house all updates has allowed us to keep our communications to our stakeholders limited to only the most critical, and avoid information overload.
2. Convene key partners and stakeholders to develop a cohesive message. Economic development organizations, government, and other community service providers are all struggling with how to keep their constituents updated with the latest information. The result can be an uncoordinated stream of information into the business community. At The Right Place, we convened key leaders from our local governments, chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus, and other key partners to work together to provide a united message and retain businesses during this period of crisis. As a result, the communication teams from the respective organizations are now working together to deliver key messages to the media and business community.
3. Consider vulnerable and unique aspects of your business community. During times of crisis, do not forget to look at your strategy through an inclusive lens. For example, the Spanish speaking community in our region’s urban and rural areas has struggled to receive the latest information due to lack of translation in urgent updates. The Right Place is working with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other support organizations to spread the word about the importance to translation services and connect area businesses with translation volunteers.
4. Maintain close contact with state and local government. As an economic development organization, you are in an ideal position to be a conduit between the government and the business community. You can advocate for the needs of your area’s businesses, while also disseminating the latest information and resources from the government to your community. You do not have to do this advocacy work alone. Be sure to engage your key partner organizations to deliver a strong and united message.
5. Engage your employers to find trends and best practices. In your discussions with employers, catalog the impact and feedback you receive from them. When shared in the aggregate, this information can provide other area employers with guidance during these unprecedented times. For example, tracking who is hiring and who is experiencing layoffs can provide valuable information to your workforce development agencies and allow you to prepare for which segments of your economy are going to need the most assistance in the near future. It can also aid you in providing triage to your business community by knowing which industries have immediate needs (restaurants, hotels), versus which businesses have a longer runway.
Another example is compiling best practices from employers into a blog or other online resource to share with the larger business community. The Right Place was able to source several best practices from our manufacturing community and place them in this blog. Having this information available online allows smaller and less-resourced manufacturers to see how others in their community are tackling the crisis. We have also been reaching out to our employers to assist them with a top concern - handling workforce issues during this crisis. This allows us to share talent-related best practices with our companies as well. One word of caution - be careful not to bombard your employers with surveys or requests for feedback, as many of them may be in survival mode and unable to focus on much other than critical business needs.
We hope these tactics can assist you and your communities as we navigate through these uncertain times. For any questions or comments, please reach out to The Right Place at email@example.com.
Andria Romkema is Vice President, Marketing and Communications of The Right Place, Inc.