In the early days, the COVID-19 pandemic hit hardest in densely populated areas. We watched in disbelief as the spread became evident. The case counts were rising rapidly, we heard reports of overburdened hospitals, PPE was getting scarce, and the business community was left shellshocked from unplanned mandatory closures. Residents and business owners were looking to state and local governments for guidance.
Small businesses have a direct impact on the health of the economy. Having a relationship with your state or local government can make a genuine difference in transforming a community. Just showing up to complain after a decision has been made is counterproductive. Fostering that relationship during good times will enable the business community to co-create strategies and help set priorities that could help small businesses flourish in crisis times.
State and local governments have a long history of crafting emergency preparedness responses. These have taken into account business continuity issues for the community. Until recently, natural disasters or emergency-type events were normally isolated incidents. A typical natural disaster would have been short, with a recovery underway reasonably quickly. The plans put in place over the past 50 years by municipal, state, and federal agencies to ensure effective communications and operational efficiency for responding to these “typical” disasters proved highly ineffective for the pandemic.
Over the years, we have continued to modernize emergency preparedness strategies. This evolution has been an effort to keep up with the ever-changing social and business landscape. Local governments, especially, have realized that working with the community pre-disaster leads to better outcomes post-disaster. Normalizing effective communication, collaboration, and cooperation before crisis strikes is the best way to engender trust between the government and the community it serves.
The unique challenge that the coronavirus brings is the type of mobilization needed. It required a coordinated effort of a whole different magnitude. The effects touched the government and the community at large. The vast majority of the public officials, employees, community leaders, and business owners attempting to navigate the response were ill-prepared. Somebody had not previously contemplated training on infectious disease control policies on a large scale. These challenges underscore the importance of business and government working together to find solutions.
Fortunately, building a culture of cooperation between business and government is doable. The decisions made at the federal, state, and local levels impact your life and business. As a business owner, your existence is political. You are creating your economy and contributing to the overall success of the community at large. Here are three strategies for getting involved before disaster strikes your community.
Be part of the process.
An intentional culture of communication is built by design. Participating in the process fosters an environment of respect. The government closest to the people has the most significant impact on day to day life yet gets the least amount of attention. Local elections, particularly those that don’t coincide with a general election, have anemic voter turnout.
The quickest way to get involved is to attend (in-person or virtually the monthly meetings of your city/town/county/parish council or board. This one-act allows you to participate in the decision-making process. You’ll hear about major issues in your community and hear from passionate neighbors with a point of view and be able to offer yours as well.
Get involved in what’s going on.
Building a nonpartisanship culture, respect, and understanding between the community and local and state officials takes time. While citizens can’t control municipal or state leaders’ actions and behaviors, we can control our own.
You can do this by volunteering for boards, committees, and community events. Most communities, especially larger cities and towns, have committees that oversee specific areas of concern. Think about what you’re passionate about and get involved. Whether that be small business zoning, environmental issues, or school playgrounds, volunteer to serve on the committee that serves that area. It’s a great way to help the community learn, and foster positive change.
Take on a leadership role.
If you want to seek more influence so that you can have a more significant impact on your community, run for office. Town Councils across the nation consist of ordinary, passionate citizens who willingly take on complex issues to improve everyone’s quality of life in their city.
Partisanship and division are at an all-time high in our national political landscape. Let’s find a way to have productive discourse and create lasting change. Changes are incremental. Our daily lives are affected daily by ordinary citizens serving the local community.
Don’t just complain on social media or give up in frustration. Take steps to be part of the solution.
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