Challenges Faced, Lessons Learned: Shifting Strategies in an Unpredictable Year

14 Dec 2020

by Dan Bish


As mentioned in the first article of this two-part blog series, I was provided the opportunity to speak with fellow economic development and community leaders at County Focus, a virtual economic development series hosted by Greater Cincinnati SMPS

My previous post highlighted the numerous projects underway in Montgomery County, Ohio as well as the progress we’ve seen throughout 2020. While these victories have been monumental for the future of our community, they were not accomplished without a fair share of roadblocks. 

Below I will outline some of the key challenges we faced in 2020 and outline some opportunities for success moving forward. 

Funding Opportunities Diminished 

Businesses, nonprofit organizations and government entities have witnessed an overall decrease in budgets this year to help combat losses accumulated throughout COVID-19. Our networks faced similar hardships as grants from ED/GE, our normal grant incentive program, were placed on a temporary hold. 

Although this reduction in funding was concerning at first, we have since pivoted. To adapt to these changes, we have shifted our focus to reconnect with our local resource partners and take a fresh look at similar programs available to help meet the needs of businesses in the Dayton Region. This has opened our eyes to new opportunities and enhanced our relationships with Dayton-area providers.  

Face-to-Face Interactions Went Virtual

Our five-county business and retention program BusinessFirst! is known for its collaborative energy and formative events that connect business owners with knowledgeable resource partners. Normally, leaders within the program would host roundtable discussions and business walks to learn the needs of local businesses — and where our collective group of experts could plug in. With the complete annihilation of in-person events, these activities needed reworked to ensure future program success. 

Since March, we’ve re-oriented our meeting strategy to host virtual roundtables with our respective partners, local businesses and community leaders. This shift has allowed us to continue the important conversations that drive economic growth in Montgomery County while also infusing expertise from speakers and leaders outside our region. We plan to utilize virtual platforms into the new year to provide our BusinessFirst! network the resources and answers needed while keeping everyone healthy and safe. 

Increased Office Vacancies and Unused Infrastructure

A concern also shared from fellow panelists, the move to remote work has left numerous companies considering whether the price of office space is worth the investment, especially if employees can complete their work anytime, anywhere. The choice to work from home indefinitely is already impacting the Dayton Region — Kettering-based Synchrony Financial chose to move its workforce completely remote, leaving a 400,000 square-foot office and call center available for purchase. This is not the only example, and it will most certainly not be the last. 

Along with vacant office buildings, we’re running into development challenges with existing buildings’ specifications. Available spaces with lower ceilings don’t meet current industry standards, leaving these infrastructures untouched. 

It’s no question that the work-from-home phenomenon and changing industry specifications will leave buildings empty, but our team views this as merely another growth opportunity. This opens the door for innovative ideas and solutions, like the redevelopment of existing spaces such as the Arcade or McCall building in West Dayton. There will be a revitalization of office buildings, open-air spaces and manufacturing infrastructure — we just have to be patient and wait for the storm to pass. 

While these roadblocks have surely impacted the ways in which we carry out our daily work as economic developers, they’ve provided invaluable lessons that will guide our strategy in the future. I challenge you to consider what roadblocks your teams have faced — and overcome — this year. I can guarantee there are more examples than you can count on one hand. These lessons learned will only be helpful in your next endeavors.