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12 months of disruption: IDM Director Drew Conrad reflects...

Posted on Thursday, March 25th, 2021

I am sure lately many of us have been reflecting on the last 12 months and how our lives, work, communities and organizations have changed due to the COVID pandemic. Three words come to mind when I reflect back on IDM and the past 12 months:  adaptability, collaboration and data. Over the past year we have become more adaptable, we have expanded our collaborations, and we have seen how important data is to our clients - having helped our clients gather and analyze a lot of data!

Strategic Planning

Why have these three words come to mind?  We have seen our clients and partners adapt and change over the past 12 months. IDM has become more adaptable in our operations and in how we serve our clients.  We are facilitating strategic planning processes with economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, and communities that are entirely virtual. In fact, one of those virtual processes is a shared planning process in a community that will produce a community-wide strategic plan, a strategic plan for the school district and a strategic plan for the municipal utility. Our clients have adapted and our team has adapted to meet their needs. 

Hearland EDC

In April the Heartland Economic Development Course will be held online for the first time.  Heartland is an annual course for economic developers who are new to the profession.  As many of you know, IDM organizes and manages the course in partnership with the Heartland Economic Development Inc. board, who represent the state economic development associations or departments in six Midwest states. The 2020 course was first postponed and then completely canceled. It was clear that an in-person course was not going to be feasible at this time, but the professional development needs of new economic developers in Iowa and the other states was not going away and we had to figure out a way to meet those needs. Thus the online course in April, now spread out over three weeks and serving 170 economic developers, was developed.

COVID-19 Business Impact Surveys

The work IDM has done over the past 12 months on the three statewide COVID-19 business impact surveys is a great example of not only adaptability, but also collaboration and the importance of data.  Debi Durham with the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA)/Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) reached out to me on Monday, March 15, 2020 to ask whether IDM could assist them in gathering information and data from Iowa businesses on how they were being impacted by COVID-19.  Within 36 hours we had a survey in the field and in 6 days nearly 14,000 surveys were completed from all 99 Iowa counties.  The second survey was completed in May 2020 and over 9,600 surveys were completed.  The third survey was launched in March 2021 and over 6,500 surveys were completed. 

These three surveys were accomplished by collaborating with the IEDA/IFA staff, and partnering with fellow programs in UNI’s Business & Community Services such as Strategic Marketing Services (SMS) and the Center for Business Growth & Innovation (CBGI).  We leveraged existing relationships to collaborate with the Professional Developers of Iowa, Iowa Rural Development Council, Iowa Association of Business & Industry, Iowa Business Council, Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Restaurant Association, Iowa Council of Foundations and other statewide groups to promote the survey.

The data from the first two surveys has helped to shape financial assistance and relief programs, marketing campaigns and public policy discussions at the state and local level.  IDM, in partnership with SMS and CBGI, are a University Center funded by the US Economic Development Administration (EDA).  With EDA’s support, we adapted our University Center focus to help with Iowa’s pandemic response and one of those actions was helping our partners utilize the survey data.  By July, IDM and SMS had produced multiple statewide detailed reports for IEDA/IFA, the Governor’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative, the Iowa Rural Development Council and the Iowa Council of Foundations.  The IDM/SMS team also produced over 70 local reports for economic development organizations, chambers of commerce, community colleges, rural electric cooperatives and for all of the state’s small business development centers.  

BEST of Iowa

IDM’s work the past 12 months with the BEST of Iowa also highlights adaptability, collaboration and data.  Business retention and expansion (BRE) visits are essential for economic development efforts in Iowa and the pandemic had temporarily halted most of those visits and many of the interview questions in Synchronist were not relevant to the issues businesses were facing.  IDM, in collaboration with SMS, assisted the BEST of Iowa team in developing a new set of interview questions and an online interview tool to enable local economic developers to conduct their employer interviews virtually and ask relevant questions. 

Thanks to you

We know that IDM over the past 12 months would not have been as productive and impactful without our clients and partners being adaptable and collaborative. So, thank you very much! We also know that all of the important data that was gathered across Iowa over the past 12 months has played a critical role in shaping state and local economic development programming and policy.  Thank you to all of our clients and partners who helped us gather that data. 

I hope that 12 months from now we can talk about a different narrative, but I do know adaptability, collaboration and data will still be important in economic development.