What small businesses need now from local government, economic development organizations, and each other.

Marisa Mutty, Lead Planner and Development Specialist

Much has been written about financial aid and funding options for small businesses during the pandemic. Most local government and economic development entities have done their best to communicate the various options to local businesses. In some cases municipalities have provided their own funding where possible.

This next phase of recovery from the pandemic will include various levels of reopening businesses as states loosen stay-at-home orders. People will make individual decisions about how and when they return to their day-to-day lives. Beyond this immediate next step, we may see waves of tighter and looser restrictions. There may be recommendations over the next several months, as COVID-19 cases spike, dip, and move around the country in patterns yet to be fully understood.

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Personal Bubble in Public Spaces?

Dayna Sarver, Development Specialist

As restrictions on social interactions are lifted and our personal bubbles are no less than six feet apart rather than the previous two to three feet, how will our physical spaces be impacted?  Undoubtedly, there will be implications felt in every sector: office spaces, concert venues, arenas, dressing rooms, theme parks, college campuses, the DMV, the Post Office, town hall, and others.  Well, maybe not town hall. No one shows up to those anyway. But will there be a more permanent shift of public meetings to online platforms? Many communities have transitioned in this direction in the interim.  (As a former municipal employee, I can’t help but wonder what will happen to those spaces.)

The point is that real estate development, urban planning and employee retention are not likely to return to the pre-COVID era.  This article explores questions to consider as practitioners prepare for the new normal.

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What can you do? Local ED professional response to COVID-19

Economic and Community Development professionals are experts at catching curve balls.  We do it all the time.  Although many of us have not seen a curve ball like COVID-19, there are specific things we can do to support the businesses in our community amidst this major curve ball none of us imagined.

While we continue to realize the far-reaching effects of the virus and its implications on the economy (I’m sure we cannot even fathom the places this will go), there are things we can do. Read on for a list!


First:  Think.  Think about how we can help small and large businesses in our respective community.  What might they need? Where will hidden challenges lie? Put yourself in their shoes and think about this.

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Top Five Things Every Newly Elected Official Should Know About Redevelopment

Property doesn’t become blighted overnight.

Years of neglect and lack of upkeep yield blighted properties.  Code enforcement, if implemented, works to help in some instances.  But if the community hasn’t been consistently enforcing building codes and maintaining standards, it will be an uphill battle.  No one wants to see play that out on the front page of the newspaper.  If your community is not diligent at enforcing existing building codes, it’s never too late to start.


A carrot and stick approach to code enforcement works better than a stick alone.

Holding property owners accountable for the condition of their property by using the heavy hand of code enforcement alone may not be well-received.  This is especially true if a blind eye has been turned to deteriorating conditions.  It might be best to start with a property owner education seminar or series of public relations outreach efforts. If your city is proactive on informing property owners about your (renewed) desire to enforce building codes, some owners may proactively address their issues.  At least then you can say they were informed.


Public sector investments in property rehabilitation is often required

For whatever reason a person comes into ownership of a property, they may not have the means to keep it up or make significant repairs.  Undertaking transformative rehabilitation is often the most expensive of property investment adventures.  What could appear to be a simple rehab project often uncovers deeper issues.  One can find aging infrastructure, structural issues, and problems lurking under surfaces.  Because significant improvements to existing buildings can be so expensive, these projects often need public sector support.  Investments made in a community’s architectural treasures will reap benefits for the long term.  And, as redevelopment occurs, it tends to go viral.  Once one property owner starts investing in a property, others decide to make improvements and the energy spreads to even more buildings.  We’ve seen the first few projects in a redevelopment area require more public investment but as the flywheel begins to spin, the private sector takes the wheel and public sector support diminishes.

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When Local Protectionism Makes the Council

Recently, business retention was invoked as one reason to turn down zoning approval of a new business in a small community. Sure, there were two existing businesses in the same general retail category in the community already.  But I couldn’t help but ask myself if City Council and Village Board members the best people to choose economic winners and losers. When does business retention become local protectionism, and is that a problem here?

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Building Your Community’s Vision

Companies that enjoy enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed while their business strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world.” This quote is from Building Your Company’s Vision, by Collins and Porras, published in Harvard Business Review a few years ago. Let’s swap the word ‘community’ for ‘company’ and apply this to the ongoing work of community development.

“Communities that enjoy enduring success have core values and a core purpose that remain fixed with their development strategies and practices endlessly adapt to a changing world.” That seems to fit! But, easier said than done when communities have election cycles and ever-changing leadership.

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What’s It All For?

“Inclusive Economic Development” is the buzz from IEDC these days. In fact, across the country, programs are being developed aimed specifically at promoting economic equity and opportunity for communities and populations that were previously unexplored by economic development traditionalists. Rooted in the mantra “a rising tide lifts all boats,” these practitioners focused on attracting jobs and investment to an area under the assumption that job availability was equated with economic prosperity. To be fair, these practices were rooted in a market that valued low-cost, low-skill labor, and resulted in millions of middle-class workers who were able to walk out of high school graduation and begin their 30-year careers.

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The Beginning of Transformative Change

Sign of for Redevelopment Resources Updates