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Small businesses and their communities must partner together to prepare for disaster relief and recovery and economic development, according to panelists at the breakout session sponsored by the U.S. Chamber’s Business Civic Leadership Center here at America’s Small Business Summit. The session was moderated by BCLC’s Benjamin Erulkar.
Lt. General Don Dardis and Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shannon Meyer discussed how they brought their city and businesses back from disaster after the 2008 Iowa floods, when 85 of the state’s 99 counties were declared disaster areas. The state is an example of businesses and governments working together to recover from the estimated $8 billion in damages. Dardis noted that approximately 75-80% of businesses have been able to reopen. “Now the goal is to keep them open,” he said. Dardis noted that while many federal agencies and support networks exist for helping homeowners, the same could not be said for helping businesses recover. “States need to address business needs from day one,” Dardis said.
Meyer, who’s local chamber of commerce has been instrumental in helping businesses in Cedar Rapids reopen, says she recommends chambers and local governments focus on the five C’s: collaboration, confidence (be ready to step in), control/credit (be willing to let go), communication, and creativity (be prepared to do non-traditional, chamber work).
Lafayette Consolidated Government City-Parish Mayor-President Joey Durel and Rob Guidry, President and CEO of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce told the packed room about their efforts to bring fiberoptics to Lafayette. The issue, Durel said, was one of free enterprise and future job growth. However, the fight with large corporate communication companies who felt they would have to compete with the municipality for future customers, ended up going all the way to the state Supreme Court. It also put the Greater Lafayette Chamber in a difficult position since many of the telecom companies at the heart of the fight were also large chamber members. However, Guidry said, the municipality moved ahead and haven’t looked back. Thanks to the $110 million bond voted on by the community, Lafayette Utilities System has installed and is running a vast fiberoptics system that has attracted investments from Canada and Disney.