From Our Executive Director: Moving Forward on Recovery, Even Without all of the Answers

Jun 01, 2020

Twelve years ago, this region beat the odds when it came to disaster recovery. National statistics showed that only 60% of businesses would return after those 2008 floods and that another 50% of those would fail within just a couple of years. In the Downtown Cedar Rapids District where I was working at the time, 83% of businesses returned, and a few years later, virtually all of them were still there. Similar recovery statistics were apparent along the Iowa River in Iowa City and Coralville, and upriver in Palo and really just about everywhere in Iowa that suffered damage in 2008.

That resiliency has been studied since then by institutions like the National Academy of Sciences and used by the Small Business Administration as a target for other regions to aspire to.

We don’t have any benchmarks like that for an economic rebound following a near-complete shutdown during a global pandemic. Benchmarks don’t exist for unprecedented events. And yet, people ask me daily about our targets should be, how fast can we recover and what’s that going to take?

I don’t have the answers. No one does. But I do share some reasons for optimism:

  • Many of the cities and counties in our region, plus our state, were in good fiscal positions before the pandemic, with strong bond ratings, adequate reserves, sound financial practices and good leadership.
  • That’s true, too, of many key businesses that had low debt and strong cash positions. Aided also by government assistance programs, businesses here may avoid the level of bankruptcies in some parts of the country.
  • Our regional economy is diverse, which is often a strength in recessions, and the presence of many food industry manufacturers and related industries is providing economic stability and strength right now.
  • Our biggest barrier to growth had been finding people to fill open jobs. That’s not an issue now, so does it reason that all the other positive economic factors might now lead to some rebound of economic growth?
  • And then there’s that resiliency thing. The social scientists never quite figured it out, but there’s certainly an underlying work ethic, camaraderie and Iowa sensibility that we cherish and need to rely on now.

We’ll be doing our part here at the Economic Alliance, cooperating with our key partners and leading many of the business recovery efforts. If someone is able to come up with economic benchmarks or determine the odds of recovery, we’re all in to beat the odds again.

-Doug Neumann, Executive Director

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