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Innovations in the Face of Crisis: Keys to Economic Recovery from COVID-19

Written by: Molly Gaskin

The ncIMPACT Initiative at the UNC School of Government and NCGrowth at the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise partner to identify strategies that will help local economies recover more quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic. Through robust data analysis, case studies, webinars, and peer learning sessions, NC local governments have access to some of the best economic recovery resources in the nation. Learn more about project findings and resources at https://go.unc.edu/KeystoRecovery. You may register for the final free webinar on Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. using this link: https://go.unc.edu/s2N4T.



The ncIMPACT Initiative at the UNC School of Government and NCGrowth at the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise partner to identify strategies that will help local economies recover more quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic. Through robust data analysis, case studies, webinars, and peer learning sessions, NC local governments have access to some of the best economic recovery resources in the nation.

The project involves a series of four webinars, the second of which was held on October 28, 2020. The ncIMPACT Initiative and NCGrowth focused on innovation, highlighting the innovation involved in the work of keynote speaker Ryan Smith, strategic initiatives manager and director of the Recovery and Renewal Task Force for the City of Durham. They also highlighted small business supports and other local innovations and local leaders to learn more about each innovation in breakout groups.

The City of Fayetteville converted an existing small business program to a support specifically for businesses afftected by COVID-19. Key to the success of this grant and loan program is the extensive network of partners involved and the existing relationships leveraged. The network and relationships allowed the program to target support to the businesses with the greatest need. The City of Belmont established a similar program, in which they provided small business emergency loans as part of the “Keep the Lights on in Belmont” program, which focused on promoting local businesses and encouraging people to go downtown and patronize businesses safely.

Caldwell County also acknowledged the importance of leveraging relationships in their work to address the digital divide during the pandemic. Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute identified a lack of internet access and devices among students and worked with Google to identify emergency technical solutions. Google donated 75 Chromebooks to loan out on a semester basis, and the company worked with the county to place 31 Wi-Fi hotspots in parked school buses around the county.

Gaston County noted the lack of child welfare reporting without in-person school during the pandemic and responded by working with a consultant to develop a new data collection framework. Still in its early stages, the program aims to train community members and stakeholders in reporting practices, as well as identify new forms of reporting to address family wellbeing during the pandemic and beyond.

In Burke County, the Carolina Textile District (CTD) was able to support member firms in pivoting production to personal protective equipment like masks and gowns and keeping workers employed. Burke County, the local school system, and other local government actors used procurement to support the CTD manufacturers.

Following the webinar, the Keys to Economic Recovery project team offered a peer learning session for attendees interested in learning more about local strategies and discussing their own problems and solutions. Discussion included more information about Caldwell County’s innovation to address the digital divide, concerns about other issues looming on the horizon, and additional local innovation examples. Several individuals shared about local gift card programs that encourage people to spend their money on “Main Street,” including Wake Forest’s Downtown Dollars and Team Reidsville Together.

A few questions arose around strategies to support businesses as they continue to change and adapt to the coronavirus. The Keys to Economic Recovery project team will research examples of local supports and strategies to address winterizing restaurants’ outdoor spaces and improving businesses’ indoor airflow. Additionally, some businesses have difficulty accessing the state and federal funding available to them, either because they are unaware of the funding or do not know how to apply for it. The team will also research resources to support businesses in accessing funding and will share those online.

The Testing the Keys to Economic Recovery project is supported by the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with funding from the North Carolina Coronavirus Relief Fund established and appropriated by the North Carolina General Assembly.

Learn more about project findings and resources at https://go.unc.edu/KeystoRecovery. You may register for the final free webinar on Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. using this link: https://go.unc.edu/s2N4T.

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