Efforts to align economic development over a two-county Northern Colorado area and collaborate regardless of community — a process that began years ago — has borne fruit in the age of COVID.
Led by the Northern Colorado Regional Economic Development Initiative, or REDI, 35 communities, economic-development entities, chambers of commerce, and others have joined to create the framework for a recovery plan for the region.
Called “Reignite our Economy,” a document unveiled Wednesday lays the groundwork for business and economic recovery from the pandemic that has closed some businesses and devastated taxing entities, charitable institutions and membership organizations that depend on healthy businesses.
“Since March 7, 42,000 people have filed claims for unemployment in the two counties (Larimer and Weld). That compares with just 2,300 in the same time period a year ago,” said Kelly Jones, director of economic development for the city of Loveland.
The regional unemployment rate stood at 11% in April for Larimer and 9.8% for Weld County, she said, which exceeds the 8.3% that was the highest unemployment rate during the Great Recession of 2008. Both counties saw improvements in those numbers in May.
Determining how a healthy economy might look and drawing up plans to get there are among the tasks that the REDI group set out to accomplish with the Reignite plan.
Jones said numerous economic developers, university experts and others participated in creating the framework, but she said four Fort Collins people “did the heavy lifting.” They are David May and Ann Hutchison of the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, and Josh Birks and SeonAh Kendall in the Fort Collins economic health department.
The plan identifies 10 principles necessary for recovery:
- Instilling confidence for customers and workers.
- Acknowledging that the work is both practical and symbolic.
- Recognizing that every community, its government and businesses have a vested interest.
- That data and experience will be essential.
- That the focus needs to be on economic recovery, and other segments of the regional fabric will follow.
- That a focus needs to be on resilience and creating systems that help entities recover when faced with setbacks.
- That recovery depends on reopening economic drivers such as universities, primary employers, federal labs and key economic sectors such as tourism.
- That participants need to strive to “do no harm.” Avoiding new regulations and financial burdens will be key.
- That the plan needs to avoid being short-sighted. Long-term goals need to be kept in mind when addressing short-term needs.
- Form should follow function. Pursuing perfect information should not “become the enemy of forward motion,” the plan says.
Jones said the working group considers the region to be in a “precovery” phase, which will be followed by rebuilding economic activity and discovering how the “new normal” will look.
The plan says that “precovery” may be characterized by an “80% economy” that won’t fully regain strength until a vaccine or treatment is developed. Jones said the recovery phase might not develop until 2021 or later and require multiple years to be fully realized.
The plan envisions that each community will devise complementary plans that take into account local circumstances.
Next steps, Jones said, include enlarging the group of people and organizations involved, developing a firmer timeline and continuing to amass data on the regional, state and national economy and the elements that make up each business sector.
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