The COVID-19 pandemic upended all aspects of society. The global impact of the virus affected local industries in the Green River area. This region has faced unexpected challenges since the virus began circulating over two years ago. One challenge was to accurately predict the duration of shutdowns. Consequently, the initial two-week shutdown turned into two months, which then became a new normal way of life.
This Economic Recovery and Resiliency Plan was created by the Green River Area Development District through a partnership planning grant funded by the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Partners in the joint funding agreement are the Kentucky Department for Local Government and the Economic Development Administration (EDA). The guiding tenants of this plan – to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic – act as a framework for the GRADD region to consult as it recovers from the pandemic and looks forward to a stronger future that can withstand other economic shocks.
According to the EDA, economic resilience encompasses “the ability to recover quickly from a shock, the ability to withstand a shock, and the ability to avoid the shock altogether.”1 The GRADD region withstood the shock of the global pandemic to varying degrees depending on location and industry. This plan addresses the recovery and resiliency efforts that can help the region withstand and avoid future shocks.
This plan analyzes ten categories: economy, consumer spending, business and industry, education, healthcare, tourism, community events, government, community services, and infrastructure. Data analysis and best practices are included in each category. Recovery and resiliency strategies emerged from the analysis. Recovery strategies are short-term changes and actions to help with immediate improvement, such as CARES Act projects. Resiliency strategies are long-term changes and actions to lessen the impact of future pandemics or other disasters. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) focuses on resiliency.
Several themes emerged from the analysis of impacts, actions taken to respond to those impacts, and weaknesses in the responses. Those resiliency themes are:
- Trust and communication
- Disaster preparedness plans
All aspects of life shifted online: business, communication and socialization, commerce, education, and healthcare. Those with access to reliable, fast broadband proved to be more resilient. They communicated, learned, and received healthcare despite shutdowns. Those without access to reliable broadband fell behind. Students lagged in education. People risked exposure to visit doctors or skipped care altogether. Reliable in-home broadband access for all will lessen the impacts of future disasters.
Seeing the pandemic as an opportunity for creativity and innovation brought success to some during trying times. Businesses, households, and entities that got creative when COVID-19 changed the world best survived the challenge. Businesses shifted models to sell products in innovative ways. Households got inventive with entertainment while at home during shutdowns. Teachers modified lesson plans overnight. Quick adaptability and a willingness to do things differently allow for the absorption of shocks like pandemics.
Trust and communication
During times of distress, citizens need to hear from trustworthy sources who are reliable communicators, both in gathering and disseminating information. Collaboration between entities and across map lines leads to more accurate information and better problem solving. Reducing fear by establishing trust and reliable communication leads to calmer reactions to stressors. If the trusted entities that citizens turn to in times of uncertainty assure those citizens that situations can be properly handled, actions like panic- buying household goods are less likely to happen.
Disaster preparedness plans
Households, government, healthcare, businesses, organizations, and schools benefit from planning. Preparing for worst-case scenarios reduces stress and leads to better decision making. Disaster plans guide investment. For pandemic plans specifically, personal protective equipment (PPE) stockpiles are critical. Few groups were prepared for the sudden demand for PPE at the start of the pandemic. This unpreparedness caused confusion, uncertainty, and stress for many people. Industries such as healthcare, law enforcement, and government should maintain adequate stocks of PPE to cover staff and some of the general population.
It is no easy feat to recover from a global pandemic stretching into its third year. As the GRADD region works toward full recovery, resiliency must be integrated into every effort. The region can better withstand future shocks if it prepares for the next disaster as it recovers from the current COVID-19 disaster. To be best prepared, entities across the region must increase access to broadband, encourage adaptability, establish trust in communication, and create disaster preparedness plans. These four goals are key to resilient communities.