SCEDA's Brantley Strickland, SCCED, reached out to colleagues around the state to check-in amid the spread of COVID-19. Here's Brantley's article on what local developers are doing, and what they had to say, about adapting to the circumstances of a pandemic:
A global pandemic has threatened economies and disrupted the everyday lives of billions in recent days. Yet, as concerns over COVID-19 have dominated the headlines, the South Carolina Economic Development community remains open for business, albeit with a few noted changes.
“We are still operating, and we continue to serve our communities,” said Danny Black, President and CEO of SouthernCarolina Alliance, which serves Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties. “We’re in the office working projects, but we continue to follow protocol laid out by state and federal government and monitor the situation closely. We have canceled all gatherings of 10 more people, and we have encouraged all staff members to conduct business by phone or digitally rather than face-to-face meetings for now.
One of our primary missions during this time of uncertainty is to act as a support system and a conduit of information to our existing industries. We want them to know we’re here to assist them in any way we can.”
Travel restrictions continue to impact activity throughout the state, confirmed Gregg Robinson, Executive Director of the Orangeburg County Development Corporation.
“We’re still handling a number of RFP’s with deadlines before the end of the month, and we have had several project visits postponed,” Robinson said. “Most importantly, we’re being impacted by international flights and Visas coming into the U.S. which I can understand. I have two companies that need letters asking for key personnel to be let back into the U.S. I’m sure all manufacturing plants are going to be dealing with this moving forward.
We have forwarded the information from SCEDA to the industry as well as vital links to share for information. We have also reached out to local industry for any donations of N-95 masks and or safety equipment that can be donated to the hospital or emergency services. We have actually had some success with this so I would recommend others to do the same.”
The pandemic is a fluid crisis, and economic development organizations continue to adapt. In some instances, according to local developers, the outbreak has forced EDO’s to take intensive looks at emergency protocol.
“We have been tasked to create pandemic response and continuity of operations plans,” said Rick Farmer, Director of Newberry County Economic Development. “While this was tedious, it’s actually a good thing because it forces us to sit down and THINK about staff safety, office cleanliness, what happens if one of us gets sick, etc. It creates a roadmap for our operations in these trying times. Our doors are now locked to the public, but we continue to work inside, and are asking the public to contact us via email or telephone. Yes, we will lose the personal touch, which we take great pride in, but this is necessary to protect ourselves and the people we would come into contact with. We are now preparing to shift to a work-from-home system, if that becomes necessary. We have seen a dramatic slowdown in project activity, but we expected that. The lull will allow us to shift our focus to helping the broader community, rather than just the economic development effort.”
“Abbeville County is currently open but we will be limiting public access to our facilities,” said Stephen Taylor, the county’s assistant director and economic development director. “We have been in contact with our local industries, mostly letting them know that we are here if needed. We have been working closely with our municipalities and our local chamber, and we’ve been sending out information to some of our small businesses on assistance resources.”
The Greenwood Partnership Alliance announced its staff would work remotely beginning March 18, with its offices tentatively slated to open again March 30.
“While we continue to monitor the health crisis, we will ensure that our mission remains top of mind and that the growth of Greenwood continues to be our focus,” Heather-Simmons Jones, CEO of the organization wrote in a March 17 letter.
Charleston County, including its economic development arm, has also shifted its workflow model to adapt to the fallout created by the pandemic.
“Our County Administrator has given our department heads the ability to flex our time between our offices and telecommuting, which was designed to address both child care issues and to protect any employees deemed medically vulnerable,” said Steve Dykes, Director of Charleston County Economic Development. “We are in constant contact with our EPD division, which is at OPCON 2, and is following the latest in federal and state directives and guidance.
One of my first acts was also to understand the status of our key allies at the DOC, Chamber, and CRDA. Our staff was equipped last week with VPNs in order to operate seamlessly from home, with access to all files and databases. We inventoried all ongoing projects and initiatives and got organized to continue to hammer away at these “known tasks.” Our BRE folks are conducting extensive outreach via phone and will conduct surveys of our existing companies to better understand their most problematic issues and how we can help. The key will obviously be having up to the minute info on state, federal and other resources available to both businesses and employees, and we are burning up the phones to stay abreast of those developments. We will organize all pertinent info on our website, along with contacts and links. We are also convening a weekly call with our existing companies, as is the protocol during hurricanes and other natural disasters."
In nearby Dorchester County, economic development director John Truluck reports his organization is slipping on some additional hats to help stabilize the local economy.
“Our role has expanded from our usual BRE role to include helping other businesses too, by gathering and disseminating information,” Truluck said. “Some of that has led to companies donating supplies. Unfortunately, it means connecting companies that are closing or laying off with workforce partners. Even that has some bright spots. We have been able to connect one company that is having to lay off workers with another company that needs extra people because of demand created by the crisis. Hopefully, it works for both companies and the employees. We are also working to pair restaurants doing deliveries with companies needing food. We are working with both local Chambers of Commerce to get information out about state and federal relief. The BRE role may change even more in the days and weeks to come. Stay tuned.”