The U.S. Economic Development Administration describes economic resilience as the ability to avoid, withstand, and recover from major disruption or economic downturn caused by major economic change, natural disaster, closure of a military base or the loss of a major employer. We could also add the pandemic to this list. Investing in resilience is essential to the long-term success of our businesses, our communities and our region. From a private and public sector perspective, the top three resilience issues we face include supply chains, workforce, and downtown revitalization.
We regularly hear about supply chain delays and shipping issues affecting company production, whether it’s a manufacturer needing components or a retailer needing inventory to meet consumer demand. Forecasts vary, and while many predict supply chain delays could last well into 2023, most say they should begin to ease by mid-2022. The pandemic has shown that many businesses have come to rely too heavily on a single source, especially when that source is overseas. Many today are looking to mitigate future risk and become more resilient by diversifying across various sources. Some, who relied too much on a distant international source, are now looking to establish additional national sources closer to home. In some cases, they take control of their own supply chain by creating new facilities to produce what they need for themselves.
For the general welfare of the public, we, as a region, need to take special care of the supply chain and distribution networks when it comes to food. For much of the pandemic, we have seen store shelves empty of meat, dairy and other products. The desperation was evident by the number of cars queuing hours before the food distribution events began. It’s ironic when you think that agriculture is a key part of the economy and the way of life in the countries of the North. However, although we produce meat and dairy products locally, we do not have the USDA-certified bottling facilities or meat processing facilities necessary to put an adequate supply into the hands of the general public. We also face limitations in the transportation and distribution networks for the processing and delivery of a variety of products in the region. Fortunately, several efforts are underway in the region to address these challenges and build the resilience of the local food system so it can better withstand future disruptions.
Developing our workforce is also important in building economic resilience. We often hear about the great quit, referring to accelerated retirements or people quitting their jobs to stay at home, become entrepreneurs or take up new jobs elsewhere that satisfy their desires for personal growth and/or of work-life balance. The time spent at home during the pandemic – whether telecommuting, furlough or reduced hours – has caused a radical realignment of values. Employers who want to recruit, retain and strengthen their talent pool will need to create an attractive work culture, with competitive wages and benefits, where employees feel valued.
On the public sector side, economic developers, workforce development and our educational institutions need to work closely with our businesses to create the training programs that create the kind of talent pool that employers need. We must be responsive, flexible and creative in putting systems in place not only to meet the skills needed in today’s workforce; but also the ability to respond effectively to the future evolution of these needs.
The health and vitality of the villages and towns that make up the region’s community centers are also critical to the region’s economic resilience. They are the centers of government and commerce and they make an important first impression on visitors who might stop by to spend their money on food, entertainment or recreation; or on those considering moving their family or business to the area. Although the decline of our downtowns has been an undesirable trend that has continued for decades, many communities have begun to see the fruits of their efforts to revive their downtowns. These initiatives tend to start with the physical revitalization of the community, followed then by the effort to attract a complementary mix of places for us to shop, eat and engage with each other. It takes time; but such efforts at various scales are alive throughout the region in communities such as Adams, Canton, Carthage, Clayton, Lowville, Ogdensburg, Plattsburgh, Potsdam, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, Watertown, and more.