|I admit it. I am biased. I have a soft spot for economic developers. I have worked beside them, with them and for them for many years, and I still believe they are the best ones to lead economic recovery in their communities after a disaster hits.
When a natural disaster hits a community, whether it be a flood, tornado, hurricane or wildfire; the immediate response usually involves first responders like firefighters, paramedics, police, military and the Red Cross. They respond to the immediate crisis, and roles and responsibilities are very clear. The Emergency Operations Centre is set up, they are in charge, and nobody does anything unless they are directed to do so. They understand lives are at stake, and as a result, this type of response model is the most effective.
However, unfortunately, business is rarely, if ever, a participant in the Emergency Operations Centre. This needs to change. Their issues are critical as well. Getting them back to business means livelihoods are restored, and business and economic recovery efforts are accelerated.
Which brings me to my point. When a disaster hits, there are a lot of community groups, including various business groups and government departments, that start to position themselves to lead business and economic recovery in the community. While they have an important role, none of them have the sole mandate. The only ones with a clear, direct mandate are local government, and the department or group that they fund to carry out economic development in their community. This group reports directly to Council, and Council reports directly to the electorate. They need to be the ones leading the efforts. It is a clear, simple governance model. All other groups report to their individual boards and/or memberships or directors. Very different.
Economic developers are trained in business retention and expansion; business and investment attraction; workforce development; opportunity identification and performance metrics. Increasingly they are also being trained in the area of business and economic recovery. They work with a range of stakeholders on a daily basis, and are able to align themselves with government, the private and non-profit sectors. As a result, they are the ones that need to be empowered to lead business and economic recovery in their community. They have the ultimate accountability.
I am excited about the opportunity for economic developers in Fort McMurray's business and recovery efforts. For the first time, I have seen an economic development department put together a plan, endorsed by Council, that puts them in the lead. We need to support them in their efforts, and encourage various stakeholders work to with them collaboratively in achieving their plan. While it won't be easy, it is a first, and important step. If successful, they will no doubt become a new best practice in how communities should respond to natural disasters in the future.