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Economic Development and COVID: Larry Gigerich Answers Your Questions

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ith more than 30 years of economic development and site selection experience, Larry Gigerich has served clients all across the United States and beyond. Amidst the uncertainties with the coronavirus outbreak, economic development professionals, business leaders, and elected officials have been calling on Larry to address some of their top concerns for the coming weeks, months, and years.

In this article, we would like to share his responses to the pattern of questions we have received most often. Hopefully, his opinions and insights will help guide your process as you move forward—and continue to pursue the goals of your organization, community, and/or state.

Top Economic Development Questions Related to COVID

While every area has been affected by the coronavirus in different ways, there are certainly a handful of trends that are emerging in terms of economic development. Larry’s recent participation in the Survive and Thrive Webinar, as well as the Site Selectors Guild’s Doing Deals During COVID Webinar, have worked to address some of the most common questions for 2020 and beyond.  

What can we expect with COVID economic recovery?

This is the question that seems to be on everyone’s mind. Without a doubt, economic development organizations will play a vital role in helping their communities, states and citizens recover. Obviously, these measures won’t happen overnight.

Eventually, though, we will see more and more regions progressing to a new stage. While first responders and healthcare workers will continue to battle the health-related aspects of COVID,   the roles of economic development professionals and elected officials will become even more important as they work on the front lines of rebuilding our economy. In order to further stabilize and rebuild the economy, we will need flexibility to pivot; not only to address and mitigate public health concerns but for future developments, as well. Policymakers should not be bound by conventional thinking and how things have been done in the past. For those working to secure or retain business, understanding how your competition tells their story will be crucial.

How should regions better prepare to deal with stiff competition?

Taking a proactive stance for economic development starts with understanding your own community’s, region’s and state’s assets. Capturing information regarding your talent, real estate, economic development incentives and quality of place will continue to be as important as ever. Analyzing and sharing those details in an easy to understand format will help leaders quickly identify what types of benefits they have to offer to new and existing businesses.

As always, communities should focus on what they are uniquely “best” at doing. They also need to have clear insights for how to support and leverage their existing assets. Responding to the competition when they are working to position themselves in a favorable light means being aware of challenges too. There are plenty of strategies for addressing potential setbacks in positive ways, but communities can only confront those issues after they have done their own due diligence.

Do you notice any specific problems that cause communities to go stagnant?

The more you can move at the speed of business, to get things done, the better. Make sure your economic development team is ready to respond in a timely and high-quality manner.  In addition, it is always important to not get complacent because your competition will take advantage of it.

In this environment, it can be easy to get bogged down by tomorrow and next week, or next month. Those who can look beyond the next few years will be well-positioned to achieve better outcomes. Both short- and long-term issues need to be addressed, and the ones that can act quickly and successfully are usually the ones that understand the value of long-term planning.

Are there other key takeaways ED professionals should keep in mind?

Regions may struggle in the coming months, but as long as the leaders are taking proactive measures, they should not feel discouraged. For example, on the West Coast, we are probably going to see companies continuing to migrate out of California. This was happening even before the coronavirus outbreak. Companies and talent from Los Angeles and San Francisco have been shifting for a variety of reasons, and other locations can attract these assets to their respective areas.

Continuing to invest in talent, quality of place, and infrastructure can help cities of all sizes win these economic development opportunities. Those are the most critical investments going forward, and again, it is important to think about the big-picture potential of your area’s future. The investments made now will not just serve communities over the next five years, but decades to come.

The Path Forward After Economic Setbacks

Locations that are prepared to move forward quickly and competently will be best positioned for short- and long-term success. As such, economic development professionals and government officials will need to strongly advocate the importance of investing in job training, infrastructure, access to capital, quality of place, and other strategies.

Bold and aggressive leadership is needed more now than ever. Those feeling pressured to cut economic development funding in response to short-term declines in tax revenue will do better to insist that the right path forward depends on swift action and investments that focus on health and the economy.