06/17/2020 by Nadine Ono
Community leaders meet virtually to drive real recovery in California’s Redwood Coast region
Acata, California (Photo: Terrance McNally/Wikimedia)
Three times a week, you’ll find a group of 30-35 community leaders from Humboldt County and the surrounding region meeting on Zoom. The group, COVID Economic Resilience Consortium (CERC), is dedicated to helping the region’s business community survive the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
CERC is the brainchild of Gregg Foster, executive director of the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission. As the economic and public health threat of COVID-19 became apparent, a core team of economic and business development partners started a daily check-in to assess the situation, strengthen lines of communication and work toward helping the Humboldt County business community.
“We realized that we were going to need a way to check in every day as this crisis unfolds,” Foster noted. The calls started March 16 before Governor Gavin Newsom issued the statewide shelter-in-place orders, which gave this group a head start. “Things were starting to happen, and we were already hearing some economic issues and people staying home and the rumor that the state was going to be issuing a shelter in place ordinance.”
The initial participants included economic development entities, nonprofit agencies and individuals who worked directly with local businesses in Humboldt County such as the North Coast Small Business Development Center, Arcata Economic Development Corporation and the County’s Economic Development Division.
In the beginning, the daily calls were more than an hour long as the group was busy creating immediate ways to help local businesses as federal relief programs such as the Payment Protection Program were not yet available.
“The best example is that we set up a central response loan program that we’d all share funds into,” said Foster. “They realized early on this was a big task because the entities had already existing loan programs and setting up a central fund could be duplicative.” He added, “We came up with a consistent loan package between all of us. We shared forms and came up with an application form that we can all use, so that it didn’t matter where you were getting the loan, you basically have the same terms. It spread the burden out between the different entities.”
Once the group gelled, initial responses such as local loan program were in place and the work moved from reactive to proactive, the calls moved to three times a week. Mondays and Wednesdays are centered on coordinating and supporting local efforts. Friday calls involve regional partners on issues that reach beyond Humboldt County.
Each CERC call adheres to an agenda that provides project updates from the working action groups, coordinates response teams and identifies emerging regional issues. The working action groups include:
- Workforce Training
- Child Care
- Pandemic Safety Resources
- Business Debt Assistance
- Rural Advocacy
- Regional Grant Seeking
- Worker safety
“It’s really a distributive leadership model, but the leadership is coming from those individual groups and what we’re providing is a platform for which they can cross communicate and work with each other and more things forward,” explained Foster. Networking, resource sharing, collaborating across action groups and providing updates from Sacramento are regularly discussed on each call.
Foster added, “The thing is about the call, the process, is that it’s a tool, not necessarily a decision-making body. Decisions can be made, but it’s not a structured body. It’s a place where people get together and get work done.”
Kathy Moxon, director of Redwood Coast Rural Action (RCRA) and a California Stewardship Network member is the lead for the CERC Rural Advocacy action group. “When CERC moved from immediate response to talking about recovery and response, it made sense to broaden the scope and participation to include surrounding counties. We can now look together at the future we want to create and work together to get there.”
Moving forward, Moxon sees that CERC’s work can be a powerful tool for the region. “CERC has been a great catalyst for building collaboration. While the immediate response was local, COVID is an example of an issue where a regional approach to recovery makes sense. On the weekly CERC calls, and within the various working groups are places to build regional connections. RCRA is working to help build out regional participation and connect the voice of the north coast region to the statewide recovery dialogue.” One of those regional connections is the planning for a North Coast Regions Rise Together convening this Summer.
For now, the CERC Zoom calls will continue as long as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts the region’s economy. Adds Foster, “This call is going to go for a while. I’ve told people that I’ll continue to host this as long as we feel it’s necessary. As soon as it’s not necessary, we’ll morph it or wind it down.” And in the future, if another disaster or pandemic occurs, Humboldt County and its surrounding region will have the infrastructure in place to face it.