2020: A Year in Review
As we head towards the close of a year that we never want to relive again!?!@#$% I wanted to share with you some of the impactful work that our team has been leading this year - our 10th year! I am honored to work with professionals that have been able to cope with all that 2020 has thrown at them. They have survived thousands of video hours at a pace that has been relentless at times. But ultimately, our team has been rewarded with meaningful projects that have engaged countless leaders and guided communities towards recovery.
Had this been any other year, we would have had some stellar parties to celebrate our 10th anniversary, releasing the Equitable Community Planning Toolkit, and updating the Fourth Economy Community Index. We’re proud of this work and are eager to hear your feedback and how you’re using the Toolkit and Index in your work! And nothing says we can’t have a major celebration for our 11th anniversary, right?
We have worked on some incredible projects this year that took a lot of turns. Some of our highlights include:
Community-Wide Economic Development Planning
York County Economic Alliance
Development of the county-wide, 10-year York Economic Action Plan kicked off in November 2019, mere months before protocols to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic began ravaging economies all over the world. As COVID-19 began to force business closures in York County, PA, the York County Economic Alliance leadership team asked us to pivot to model anticipated economic impacts of the pandemic on local industries, small businesses, and the vulnerable households who were most affected by the economic shifts. This work helped the County program secure millions of dollars of CARES Act funding to support critical business and community needs.
Ramsey County, MN
We supported Ramsey’s inaugural Economic Competitiveness and Inclusion Plan and had the privilege of collaborating with the renowned Center for Economic Inclusion in its development. Over the past year we have seen some difficult times with the pandemic unfolding and the murder of George Floyd in neighboring Hennepin County in May.
Despite its challenges, the team was able to pivot quickly and respond with a re-invigorated push for widespread community engagement. The result has been unprecedented stakeholder involvement, record-setting community conversations and working groups, and a plan that is deeply rooted in the voices of community members. The planning process is nearing completion and the plan will be released in early 2021.
Networks Northwest, the regional planning organization for the 10-county region of Northwest Michigan, engaged us to help with the development of Thrive North, a Promotion and Investment portal for the region. This work included compiling Community Investment Area site and building investment opportunities in 31 areas of the region that are prime for development and redevelopment, profiling the region’s 8 Opportunity Zones, and more.
Due to the pandemic, we temporarily pivoted in order to highlight the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Northwest Michigan’s tourism, hospitality, manufacturing, and other industries, as well as prepare “Roadmap to Resilience,” an economic recovery playbook for the region’s organizations to follow to address the short term social, and long term economic investments needed for economic recovery. This analysis also considered the region’s Remote Readiness, given the trend of many people moving to more rural locations to lessen the health risks associated with the pandemic and to take advantage of remote work opportunities that have become the norm in so many industries.
Allegheny County Economic Development
We provide technical assistance (with our friends at evolve EA) and management services for the Allegheny Together Initiative, a business district revitalization program for municipalities in Allegheny County. Early in the pandemic, when we would normally be planning our annual in-person Summit, we saw the need to share resources that allowed businesses to let customers know their operating hours through a google map of local businesses (we think we inspired google to add this feature). The map was one of the many forms of assistance we provided to Allegheny County businesses. We also hosted a series of virtual workshops, where we brought panelists of local experts to consult businesses in topics like online marketing, restaurant safety, emergency funding assistance, keeping main streets resilient. We continue to provide a number of informational resources on our Allegheny Together website for businesses to reference.
Connect (and Restore) Greater Newport
In Greater Newport, RI we continued our work with the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce and our role as manager of Connect Greater Newport. Our work pivoted from business calling and strategy development to understanding the impacts on the small business community and collaborating with groups to pursue funding support to mitigate the economic impacts. Along with partners throughout the Greater Newport Region, we created a steering committee to guide the recovery of the region through Restore Greater Newport.
An additional offshoot of the project to support local businesses this season was the creation of Shop Greater Newport where consumers can find business information at their fingertips as they do their holiday shopping and beyond into 2021.
Impacts of COVID-19 in the Pittsburgh Region
In March and April, shortly following the outbreak of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, we supported a coalition of philanthropic and nonprofit leaders led by the Hillman Family Foundation with analysis of COVID-19’s economic impacts on businesses, workers, and families in the Pittsburgh region. We identified and quantified the extreme risks borne by small businesses and lower-income families. We used the United Way’s ALICE data as a resource to describe the impacts on so much of the community. This work helped to inform community leaders and funders on the severity of these impacts, as they began to respond with grantmaking and other programs designed to mitigate the effects of the crisis.
The Pittsburgh Foundation and partners at the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations engaged us to look at the impacts of the COVID-19 driven economic crisis on the nonprofit sector in Pennsylvania.
The Heinz Endowments sponsored our work with a set of child care champions to define what impacts COVID-19 is having on the child care market and working families. COVID-19 has exacerbated cracks and weaknesses that were already straining the system; worsening inequality, forcing workers — particularly women - out of the labor force, and threatening the sector as a whole. Nationally, child care is finally being recognized as the critical worker support that it is.
Overall, working families are taking the brunt of the impacts from the pandemic — from parents who are now forced to serve as tech support and teacher for their kids’ remote learning, to families choosing to delay routine medical care; from parents’ loss of employment and income to families fearing for the stability of their basic needs, like housing and food. A Pittsburgh-based partnership between Allies for Children, Poise Foundation, and United Way of Southwestern PA have engaged us to produce a monthly Community Pulse report that seeks to identify the issues that families are facing, while also providing recommendations for advocacy and support.
Above: Segments of the Community Pulse report.
We also completed a set of economic impact modeling projects with some wonderful clients including: Nature Conservancy of Indiana, Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), the University of Pittsburgh Office of Community Engagement, and Riverside Center for Innovation. Look for these reports to be released in 2021.
That’s a Wrap
WOW! I know how busy it has seemed all year but looking at this list gives me goosebumps, knowing that we have served so many this year. If you made it this far in my message, you are one of our most favorite people - that group of special people that we have come to know over the past ten years. Do know that we appreciate you and can’t wait to see you on the other side of this.
We are going offline on December 18th and will be back refreshed in early January. We wish you health and peace!