The COVID-19 pandemic was a shock to the system of the North Central Pennsylvania (NCPA) economy and those of communities across the nation and globe. While the pandemic was impossible to predict and necessitated ongoing efforts to manage its negative impacts, there is still the opportunity to consider how to be prepared for economic disruptions of many types. This could include contingency plans to mobilize resources and partnerships to enable NCPA communities and organizations to manage these unforeseen occurrences as best as they can given current conditions and challenges.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) has incorporated the concept of resilience into its CEDS process to ensure that communities are focused on sustaining their economies for the benefit of all residents and can be proactive in the face of future employment and demographic threats. According to the EDA, “Economic resilience becomes inclusive of three primary attributes: the ability to recover quickly from a shock, the ability to withstand a shock, and the ability to avoid the shock altogether. Establishing economic resilience in a local or regional economy requires the ability to anticipate risk, evaluate how that risk can impact key economic assets, and build a responsive capacity.”

The EDA categorizes three types of risk:

Downturns or other significant events in the economy which impact demand for locally produced goods and spending

Downturns in particular industries that constitute a critical component of the region’s economic activity

Other external shocks (a natural disaster, closure of a military base, exit of a major employer, the impacts of climate change)

Addressing these disruptions requires a combination of “steady-state” and “responsive” efforts. Steady-state initiatives tend to be long-term efforts that seek to bolster the region’s ability to withstand or avoid a shock, while responsive initiatives establish capabilities following an unforeseen incident. The North Central Pennsylvania CEDS contains multiple steady-state efforts to ensure the region works diligently to advance its economic prospects and create sustainable wealth for local residents. This Economic Resilience and Vulnerability Assessment posits a list of potential disruptions and prescribes methods and protocols for addressing them collectively.

As with implementation of CEDS priorities themselves, effectively managing future economic disruptions boils down to relationships, communications, and established protocols for collaboration and coordination. To ensure resilience in the face of unforeseen economic shocks, the EDA recommends that regions:

  • Conduct pre-disaster recovery planning to define key stakeholders, roles, responsibilities, and key actions;
  • Establish a process for regular communication, monitoring, and updating of business community needs and issues (which can then be used after an incident);
  • Establish/utilize capability to rapidly contact key local, regional, state, and federal officials to communicate business sector needs and coordinate impact assessment efforts; and
  • Establish/utilize coordination mechanisms and leadership succession plans for short, intermediate, and long-term recovery needs.
  • As the coordinator of CEDS implementation and the hub of the region’s planning and development network, the North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission must leverage its existing relationships and communications protocols and determine how to improve processes for information-sharing and collaboration to position North Central to better manage future disruptions.

The region’s response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic should be assessed to determine what worked, what didn’t, and what more was needed to help North Central better navigate the pandemic’s impact on businesses, workers, and communities. Learnings from this exercise can help NCPRPDC define specific roles for public, private, educational, and nonprofit sectors when addressing one-time or prolonged disruptive events.

If determined to be valuable, North Central should consider building out a plan for a Business Emergency Operations Center (BEOC). This model can be activated as needed to serve as a facilitated hub of business-to-business collaboration and communication during economic shock events to connect public and private sector organizations and employers with local, state, and federal emergency response entities and personnel. This will ensure that assistance and resources are being effectively directed to businesses in need. Other regions have taken this model one step further to formalize permanent capacity to manage economic issues and disruptions.

An example of this is the Corpus Christi region in Texas, which created a Regional Resilience Partnership (RRP) to build the capacity of local communities to strengthen resilience and mitigate disaster risk. RRP is administered by the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi, and the Coastal Bend Council of Governments (CBCOG). The RRP distributes a weekly news email listserv with training and funding announcements, provides targeted training sessions on recovery, mitigation, and resilience, directs technical support and guidance to local partners on implementing recovery, resilience and risk mitigation measures, and pursues funding to help communities build capacity to achieve regional resilience goals.

Economic Shock Scenarios

The following matrix presents a number of economic disruptions that could potentially impact North Central in future years. For each economic shock, the matrix envisions how the event could affect the North Central economy, proposes a set of potential tactical steps to prepare for and address the disruption, and provides a set of links to resources to assist the region with guarding against and/or managing an economic shock.