Field Notes: Coordinating Economic Disaster Recovery in Idaho

Coordinating Economic Disaster Recovery in Idaho

Field Notes is a series of TIP Strategies interviews with leaders across the country exploring pressing economic, workforce, and community development issues.

The sharp downturn in economic activity precipitated by the global COVID-19 pandemic brought the need for recovery and resiliency planning into sharp relief for communities, regions, and states in 2020. The leaders of Idaho’s five economic development districts saw the need for immediate action and formed an innovative, strategic partnership to position their communities for a quicker recovery and long-term resiliency. TIP worked with the group to complete a disaster recovery initiative for the districts that can be implemented at the district, state, and local levels. We asked Deb Smith, co-chair of the Economic Development Districts of Idaho (EDDI) statewide Economic Disaster Recovery and Resiliency Framework Initiative, to share some background about the project and her thoughts on the planning process. The initiative, which wrapped in July 2021, received a 2021 Impact Award from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). The award recognizes creative approaches to advancing regional economic development and improved quality of life.

Q1. How did the EDDI Disaster Recovery Initiative get its start?

In July 2020, the five Economic Districts of Idaho (EDDI) each received a $400,000 award from the US Economic Development Administration CARES Act funds to address COVID-19 economic impacts in their respective regions: North Idaho, North Central Idaho, Southwest Idaho, Southeast Idaho, and Eastern Idaho. These funds are being used to develop and implement short and long-term economic development plans to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic injuries.

To leverage funds and develop a consistent economic disaster recovery framework amongst the five economic development districts, the EDDIs partnered to procure the services of TIP Strategies of Austin, Texas, to lead the EDDI Disaster Recovery Initiative. The scope of work focused on the development of an economic disaster recovery framework with a train-the-trainer element that included how to assess impacts of an economic disaster, identification of partners and stakeholders, and communication strategies before, during, and after a disaster event.

Q2. Why is this initiative important, and how is it related to your work in economic recovery and resiliency planning?

Most of the districts had not experienced an economic disaster such as the COVID-19 pandemic. While familiar with natural disasters, loss of a major employer, and even economic downturns, nothing prepared the EDDIs for the sudden and shocking economic impact of COVID-19. The EDDIs recognized early that their role was not to serve as first responders to the disaster but to understand short and long-term economic impacts and develop plans to aid in economic recovery and build economic resiliency in our respective regions.

Q3. How will your Economic Recovery and Resiliency Plan effect change in your district?

Each of the EDDIs Economic Recovery and Resiliency Plans are data driven and have been developed through the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders, state agencies, funding partners, and private citizens. Understanding the impacts of an economic disaster to industry, employers, supply chains, essential services, social services, and our citizenry have created plans that address the needs of our specific regions. Addressing resiliency has highlighted the need for strong local/regional/state supply chains that can withstand national disruption and keep industries open.

Q4. What strategies have you used to develop your Economic Recovery and Resiliency Plan that might be useful for other districts or communities in Idaho? In the country?

Data, data, data! Understanding the impacts of the pandemic has led to the development of realistic goals and strategies for recovery and resiliency. The state of Idaho did not suffer high unemployment rates like other areas of the nation but has had difficulty attracting and retaining employees. Issues such as the lack of affordable housing and accessible childcare have hindered the return of workers. Data has helped us move perception of the economic injuries to an understanding of the true cause-and-effect of the pandemic to our region.

Peer-to-peer learning and reviewing best practices has proved valuable and given us ideas for the post-its on the wall – we didn’t start with a blank sheet, which can be intimidating!

Q5. What lessons have you learned during the Disaster Recovery Initiative or when starting the economic recovery and resiliency planning process that might be useful for others looking to start a similar initiative?

First, diversity is key to the planning team. Seat members from industry, education, finance, health care, other planning organizations, social agencies, county emergency managers, and even private citizens.

Second, timeliness is key to the economic recovery and resiliency plan. A CEDS can take over a year to develop but our industries and economies don’t have the luxury of time to implement a recovery strategy. It is key to remember that a plan can always be amended or revised as needed. We review implementation strategies and current data to truth check our goals and strategies to ensure we are still on the right path to recovery.

Q6. Do you recommend any supplemental resources for learning about the problem this program is meant to solve?

Engaging an experienced consultant can be the best resource a District could utilize. TIP Strategies brought a national perspective and a depth of experience to the EDDI Disaster Recovery Initiative that helped bring the plan together. In addition, our funding partners such as EDA and USDA have been key to understanding the funding mechanism, expected results, and available resources.

Deb Smith, Regional Economic Planner for the Clearwater Economic Development Association (CEDA)

Deb Smith is based in Lewiston, Idaho, and has nearly 20 years of experience in economic and community development. In her current role as the Regional Economic Planner for the Clearwater Economic Development Association (CEDA), she provides leadership in the development and implementation of the organization’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), and delivers a range of technical assistance to businesses, government jurisdictions, taxing districts, and non-profit organizations in the five counties of North Central Idaho. During her time at CEDA, Deb has authored and/or administered over $5.3 million in federal, state, and organizational grant awards. Other accomplishments include executing and authoring the 2018 North Central Idaho Hospitality Training Needs Assessment (which was used to support expansion of the Lewis-Clark State College Hospitality Management Program) and authoring the Port of Lewiston’s successful $1.3 million TIGER IV grant application for dock expansion. Deb was appointed as Region II Representative for the Idaho Transportation Department Public Transportation Advisory Council (2013–2014) and has held leadership and board positions for a variety of non-profit organizations throughout the region. Prior to joining CEDA, Deb served as the Membership Coordinator and Tourism Coordinator for the Lewiston Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Development Director of Visit Lewis Clark Valley. For more information on the EDDIs statewide Economic Disaster Recovery and Resiliency Framework Initiative, contact Deb at

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