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IEDC in the Field: Economic Recovery Volunteers Lend Communities a Hand
Eli Dile   on Monday, January 8, 2018 at 9:03:00 am

By Eli Dile and Louise Anderson

The 2017 hurricane season will be remembered as one of the most destructive in American history. In quick succession, Harvey, Irma, and Maria devastated regions of the U.S. southeast and the Caribbean. Several months later, cities from the Texas coast to San Juan are still struggling to rebuild homes, businesses, infrastructure, and livelihoods.

With support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, IEDC is deploying economic recovery volunteers to impacted communities in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. IEDC members volunteer their professional economic development expertise to help EDOs or local government organizations with any type of economic recovery activity (e.g., small business assistance and finance, strategic planning, meeting facilitation, program and policy development, etc.). IEDC assesses the needs in each affected region, and matches and deploys volunteers for on-site assistance.

In Texas, IEDC has dispatched economic recovery volunteers to the city of Port Arthur and the Lake Houston area. Port Arthur is a coastal city of 53,000 and home to the Motiva oil refinery, the largest in the United States. Three-quarters of Port Arthur flooded after it received 47 inches of rain, which forced 3,000 residents into shelters. The Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation (PAEDC) hosted volunteer Jenn Todd, principal planner with the City of Austin, for a week in November. Todd helped EDC staff assess the needs of damaged small businesses.

“The Small Business Disaster Survey would not have been a success without IEDC’s support,” according to PAEDC Executive Director Floyd Batiste. “We were able to complete 49 face-to-face interviews, giving us the information we needed to apply for a forgivable loan grant to assist local businesses in need after Tropical Storm Harvey.”

The cities of Atascocita, Humble, Kingwood, and Summer Creek are served by the Lake Houston Area Economic Development Partnership (LHAEDP), northeast of Houston. Nearly half of the Lake Houston area’s 7,500 businesses sustained damage from Hurricane Harvey. Volunteer Pete Fullerton, assistant director of the Kansas City Aviation Department, worked with LHAEDP President Mark Mitchell on small business financing, strategic planning, and a post-disaster business retention and expansion strategy. Their work identified a San Antonio-based CDFI able to provide interest-free loans to impacted businesses.

Image: Allison Larsen, TadZo Consulting

“It was a great opportunity to visit and assist the leadership of the community, and I am honored to have participated in this effort,” noted Fullerton.

This month, at least two IEDC board members will be volunteering their time in Texas. Allison Larsen, principal of consultancy TadZo, will work with the Rockport-Fulton Chamber of Commerce to facilitate meetings to inform an economic development action plan. Linda DiMario, vice president at the Greater Irvine (Caif.) Chamber, will work with the city of Aransas Pass to help downtown business owners gain consensus on transformative activities, programs, and infrastructure for short- and long-term growth.

In Florida, IEDC volunteers will work with the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce on a talent attraction project, and with Manatee County Economic Development. Economic recovery workshops are planned next month across several locations in Florida.

In early February, IEDC President and CEO Jeff Finkle and staff will visit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to meet with local stakeholders. IEDC has been working with PRiMEX (Puerto Rico’s manufacturing extension partnership) and INTECO (a nonprofit technology commercialization agency) to identify volunteers to assist local manufacturers and tech companies.

In addition to assessing needs, deploying volunteers, and conducting training, IEDC is developing tools to address common problems among disaster-impacted communities. Currently under research is a document of best practices for structuring and administering RLFs for disaster recovery. It will be applicable to EDOs pre- and post-disaster and will be published soon on restoreyoureconomy.org.

As communities rebuild and regroup post-hurricane , IEDC will continue to match and deploy economic recovery volunteers. If you are interested in serving as a volunteer and can commit to a week of service on site, please complete this brief online form. Volunteers with intermediate to advanced Spanish skills are needed to serve in Puerto Rico.

Many thanks to the individuals who have registered to volunteer, and wishes for a speedy and lasting recovery to all who were impacted by 2017’s disasters.

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