How your community can recreate vibrancy after COVID-19

A guest article by Quint Studer, founder of Pensacola's Studer Community Insitute, highlighting the importance of how investing in the little things can lead to great revitalization impact.

Guest article by Quint Studer of

While we don’t know the exact timeline, in the next few months, we expect the shelter-at-home restrictions to be lifted, and folks will be eager for things to reboot and get back to “normal.”

Don’t expect the reboot to put your community right back to where it was before COVID-19. For starters, it’s not possible. I’ve read and heard this many times and I agree: When this is over, the world will have changed in many ways. But also, even if we could, we shouldn’t settle for a return to the “old” normal. We owe it to the community to aim higher.

As world-famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Now is the perfect time to start moving toward the puck. Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Pensacola followed that guidance when Hurricane Ivan came through in 2004. We had already been working on revitalization, but that crisis turned out to be a springboard for bringing big, meaningful change to our community. Once the initial shock was over, things really took off.

Our entire world is struggling through another storm right now. And we’ll all emerge from this one in different conditions. This is true for people who will have been in their house for 60 days. Some will come out more fit. Others will gain weight. Some will learn a new skill or write a book or work on their business strategy. Others will not. The same is true on a community level. We can choose to come out stronger and better. It will take work, but it’s possible.

COVID-19 can be an accelerant for building out your community. The groundwork is being laid right now. Communities are coming together in ways most of us have never seen before. Companies are repurposing to serve the new needs. Leaders are reaching out to help other leaders. Neighbors are stepping up to help neighbors.

And we’re realizing we really need each other, especially on the local level. Garbage collectors on the empty streets of NYC and other frontline workers are now being recognized as heroes. In many cities, hospital workers receive nightly applause. Yes, we are physically separated, but in spite of that (or perhaps because of it), our emotional bonds are stronger than ever.

This mindset is a gift for leaders who seek to recreate the vibrancy that may have been rising before the pandemic—or perhaps to create it for the first time. The power of localism is at an all-time high. We cannot let it go to waste. We need to leverage it as we seek to make our communities all they can be.

Here are a few guidelines for re-engaging your community as we move forward post-pandemic:

Get intentional. Put some real objectives in place around what you want the future to look like. If you don’t have that vision, how can you know where you’re going? Share this vision with the community openly and often. Everyone has a stake and deserves transparency.

Be smart with money. You may be getting some stimulus funding. It will be crucial to spend it in a way that invests in the future. Carefully think through what that looks like. And while this may go without saying, be transparent here, too.

Make small bets. Embrace incrementalism. As you know, this is the message Chuck is famous for. Fix what’s broken first. Make small, doable changes that generate ROI. This is how communities build in resilience. Restoring vibrancy won’t happen quickly, but people will be hungry to see things moving in the right direction so communicate and celebrate your wins.

Put in place a framework for making decisions. If not, the possibilities will overwhelm you. Don’t chase every shiny ball. If the goal is to attract investment, make every decision through that lens. Job one is to create a great place to live that attracts talent. Talent follows place, and investment follows talent. People want affordability, opportunity, and vibrancy, so pursue only initiatives that create those conditions.

Article originally published at Quint Studer is author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America and Wall Street Journal bestseller The Busy Leader’s Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive. He is founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community’s quality of life, and Vibrant Community Partners, which coaches communities in building out a blueprint for achieving growth and excellence. Quint speaks and works with communities across the country, helping them execute on their strategic plans, create a better quality of life, and attract and retain talent and investment. He is a businessman, a visionary, an entrepreneur, and a mentor to many. He currently serves as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of West Florida, Executive-in-Residence at George Washington University, and Lecturer at Cornell University.

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