Gold wordmark

IDM 2021 Logo 

 

COVID-19 and Crisis BR&E

Posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

Thoughts from the IDM team...


As COVID-19 is affecting our own workplace and campus community, the IDM team is thinking through how you, as economic development and chamber professionals in Iowa and the Midwest, might help your communities through the issues and challenges caused by COVID-19. Right now the situation has the feel of a springtime tornado warning - changing minute by minute. You likely realize it should be taken seriously but you are really not sure if it will hit or how much damage it will cause. In times like this your immediate goal is to not be caught standing in the middle of the street watching spinning clouds with your neighbors.
 
IDM does not have a crystal ball related to COVID-19, but we strongly suggest you consider a proactive communications plan with your stakeholders built around the old public relations acronym RACE (research, action, communication and evaluation). For the coming week, focus on RESEARCH.

We are not talking about formal research. This is about asking your stakeholders questions, assessing how individuals and organizations are doing, and identifying common and challenging issues and needs. Focus on your major employers, small businesses, financial community (banks, credit unions, financial investors), care providers (children and the elderly), healthcare providers, and schools/community colleges.  

At this stage in a crisis, people often process uncertainty and fears by simply talking about how much nobody knows, how the crisis is impacting them personally, and what information they have heard or seen on the Internet. Your “To Do” for the week is to pick up the phone and/or send emails to ask three or four simple questions (below). This information gathering is research with a purpose.

You are signaling that you, your board and your organizations…somebody…is taking time to think about their firm/organization and ask how the virus, healthcare challenges, plummeting stock market, and stressed supply chains are impacting their operations, customers, employees, suppliers, family, and own stress level.  

NO ONE EXPECTS YOU TO HAVE ANY ANSWERS. Limit your research to just taking notes and identifying gaps and common issues. Call and email as fast as you can; whenever you can; and from wherever you are (e.g. car, home, between meetings). Unless you can make an easy referral, do not worry about doing more than asking questions. The news is that you are quickly forging relationships, opening up lines of crisis communication, and circling issues that you can start to address next week.

Here are sample questions for stakeholders to consider. Develop your own list of three to four questions and begin right away.

Major Employers 

  • What are the biggest challenges you are seeing in the _______ industry related to the COVID-19 crises? How about locally?  
  • How are your customers/suppliers being impacted?
  • Are you receiving the information and assistance you need from the public health and healthcare community?  
  • Is there information you need or would like to share with the rest of the business community? How about the local government and the healthcare and childcare communities? Do you need assistance getting or sharing that information out?
  • Obviously there are a lot of unknowns. What are likely to be the Coronavirus’ impact on you over the next 30-60 days? How does that change if the timeline extends to 90 days?
  • What about your employees? Have you instituted any social distancing policies (remote work, staggered shifts, travel restrictions, cancelled events/meetings)? Are layoffs a possibility?
  • Will absenteeism or reduced face-to-face customer relations affect your production or ability to conduct business?
  • What do you expect to be the impact of economic instability/changes in the market or the price of fuel on your operations?
  • How are those issues impacting your supply chain and your industry?
  • Do you anticipate the economic downturn impacting timelines for your workers near retirement? 
  • Are there ways the [city/chamber/EDO] could assist your business?

Small Employers 

  • What are the biggest challenges you are seeing in your business due to the COVID-19 crisis?  
  • How are your customers/suppliers being impacted?
  • Are you receiving the information and assistance you need from the public health and healthcare community?  
  • Is there information you need or would like to share with the rest of the business community? How about the local government and the healthcare and childcare communities? Do you need assistance getting or sharing that information out?
  • Obviously there are a lot of unknowns. What are likely to be the Coronavirus’ impact on you over the next 30-60 days? How does that change if the timeline extends to 90 days?
  • What do you expect to be the impact of economic instability/changes in the market to your business?
  • What about your employees? Have you instituted any social distancing policies (remote work, staggered shifts, travel restrictions, cancelled events/meetings)? Are layoffs a possibility?
  • Will absenteeism or reduced face-to-face customer relations affect your production or ability to conduct business?
  • Are there ways the [city/chamber/EDO] could assist your business?

Financial Institutions (in addition to business questions)

  • Has your board or leadership discussed the impact of COVID-19 on your clients/customers?
  • How are you handling calls from worried customers?
  • Is there anything we can do to help with communications?
  • Are you planning on any customer accommodations because of COVID-19 impacts (low interest loans, late payment easing, etc.)? 
  • From your perspective, what are likely to be the short-term financial impacts/challenges we could begin seeing within our community/county in response to a prolonged downturn in the market.

Elder/Childcare Providers

  • What are the biggest challenges you are facing related to COVID-19?
  • Do you have enough supplies? Do you anticipate any issues with getting supplies?
  • How is the closure or cancellation of external events/activities/schools affecting your ability to serve your families?
  • How are you managing social distancing (excluding visitors, cancelling activities, etc.) and do you have the space and flexibility to do that?
  • What about your employees – how will absenteeism or reduced contact hinder the ability to operate? 
  • Do you need help with communicating your policies or challenges to the public or to businesses? Is there anything we can do to assist you?
  • What type of issues do you foresee your elderly residents/clients facing related to the economic downturn, if any?

Healthcare providers (e.g. hospital/care center/clinic CEO’s and leadership)

  • What are the biggest challenges you see locally related to the COVID-19 response?
  • Is there information you would like to share with local business and industry? Do you need assistance getting that information out?
  • Do any local groups or service providers need to be brought together to help you work through crisis?
  • How is your staff holding up? How are you doing? 
  • The stock market has been a roller coaster. Is your foundation communicating with donors? What are they hearing?

Schools (e.g. B to 12, community colleges/universities)

  • What are the biggest challenges you see locally related to (daycare, childcare, education, remote learning) and the COVID-19 response?
  • What type of support are you getting (if appropriate)? What do you need that you are not receiving?
  • Is there information you would like to share with local business community? Do you need assistance getting that information out?
  • Do any local groups or service providers need to be brought together to help (childcare, education, the college/university) work through crisis?
  • How is uncertainty around parents’ and students’ scheduling and events impacting your ability to operate?
  • How are you dealing with managing “social distancing” and has it impacted planned events, travel, workforce, etc.?
  • How do you anticipate economic instability/changes in the market impacting our ability to provide quality education, workforce training etc. as appropriate?

We also recommend reaching out to your local emergency manager and local public health to serve as a liaison to businesses - you can help them distribute information to your local business community.