How Can the CEDS Process Build Resilience?

Under Tridge by Aberro Creative via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Over the past year, TIP has examined the role of the CEDS in creating data-driven, inclusive, and community-supported regional strategies. In this, the fourth and final installment of the series, we look at the importance of resilience.

The requirement to integrate economic resilience planning into the comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS) was first introduced by the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) as part of updated CEDS guidelines released in 2015. The inclusion of resilience as a core component recognizes the ability of the CEDS to help “better prepare regions to anticipate, withstand, and bounce back from any type of shock, disruption, or stress it may experience.” The EDA has since reinforced its commitment to the concept. Its April 2023 CEDS content guidelines update calls for the inclusion of not only economic resilience, but also climate resilience planning. Three additional areas—workforce development, equity, and broadband—were also addressed in the new guidance.

While the EDA’s specific intention is not spelled out in the guidelines, these updates point to an interest in ensuring that the CEDS identifies transformative opportunities, while also being based in reality. Events like the Great Recession (2007-2009), with impacts that stretched on in parts of the country long after its official end, and the economic upheaval associated with the COVID-19 pandemic make the case for economic resilience. Likewise, the growing number of extreme weather events and other climate-related impacts illustrate the need for resilience in this area. Communities and regions that are ready to respond and adapt to these shocks are more likely to bounce back from these events and perhaps even find a way to create opportunity.

When TIP was engaged in January 2020 by the East Michigan Council of Governments (EMCOG) to update their CEDS, no one could have predicted how ubiquitous resilience would soon be in the headlines. The characterization of COVID-19 as a global pandemic in early March, and subsequent lockdown orders wreaked havoc for economies across the world, including in Michigan. The CEDS planning process, already underway, pivoted to a virtual one.

The region’s vitality was further tested just a few months later when Midland County, one of 14 counties served by EMCOG, was faced with an unprecedented natural disaster. On May 19, 2020, heavy rainfall and snow melt that had accumulated over a two-day period led to historic flooding, causing the failure of two dams and releasing a torrent of water on the city of Midland and surrounding communities. The 500-year-flood event damaged hundreds of homes and businesses, washed away roadways and damaged bridges, and forced the evacuation of 10,000 people.

Fortunately, EMCOG had a ready-made asset to deploy in the face of these challenges: its Regional Economic Development (RED) Team. This cross-disciplinary committee—established in response to calls for increased collaboration in EMCOG’s previous TIP-led CEDS—includes representatives from across the region. In addition to serving as the EDA-required CEDS committee, the RED Team meets regularly outside of the formal CEDS planning process. The strong working relationships built among RED Team members meant they were able to move quickly to respond when disaster struck.

The CEDS offered EMCOG another advantage as the region responded to the events of 2020. Although the planning process was just barely underway when the COVID-19 pandemic and flooding occurred, it provided a vehicle for strengthening resilience planning and supporting future readiness. In accordance with EDA requirements, resilience was an integral component of the CEDS, featuring prominently in the plan vision and guiding principles, as well as being woven throughout its goals and strategies.

One critical piece of future readiness, developing and maintaining resilient infrastructure, was the focus of Goal 1. A major recommendation under this goal was for EMCOG to adopt and incorporate the integrated asset management tools available through the Michigan Infrastructure Council (MIC). In keeping with this recommendation, EMCOG assisted MIC and its partners in training regional infrastructure asset managers (including local governments, water authorities, road commissions and utility operators) in the use of MIC’s Asset Management Readiness Assessment Scale. This tool is designed to provide a statewide methodology for assessing management practices in key categories including leadership, data collection, and decision-making. Use of the scale is intended to allow organizations to set goals and make improvements based on consistent metrics.

Despite a global health crisis and a climate-related disaster, EMCOG’s leaders were able to ensure that the 2020 CEDS process went forward and that the region’s most pressing issues were addressed. EMCOG’s experience points to the benefits of integrating both economic and climate resilience into the CEDS. Communities and regions that have put in place the structures and tools needed to manage disruptions across economic, social, and physical systems will be better positioned to bounce back from the unexpected. The CEDS planning process represents a critical opportunity to bring a cross-section of the community together to set the foundation for a resilient future.

TIP consultant Katrina Parkey, CWDP, contributed to the research and writing of this post.

Image credit: Under Tridge by Aberro Creative via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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