It’s the time of the year when our favorite outlets are releasing their “year in review” and… what a year it has been!
I know I’m not alone when I say it’s been a year like no other for our Business Investment Group (BIG) at Arlington Economic Development. Like many others, we quickly learned to do business not as usual. Our “normal” work is to support economic growth through job creation and business expansion in Arlington County, and that all changed in mid-March of this year.
While we did have success retaining and even attracting companies in 2020, preservation was the name of the game this year. In mid-March, we quickly pivoted to focus efforts on checking in with our companies and assisting those that needed help. Success looked a little different this year. If we could help companies access the information and resources they needed to avoid layoffs and shuttering their business, that was a victory. Sometimes, it meant just listening as a business owner shared what they were going through, their concerns, their struggles and their fears.
Our team shifted to provide the services that were needed in our business community in the moment, which was challenging at times, but each team member stepped up without hesitation. The events of this year, which challenged us each personally and professionally, left us stronger as a team and as a business community.
I would like to highlight a few great accomplishments in the face of a brutal 2020. First, the way our department and community came together to stand up the $1.3 million Arlington Small Business Emergency GRANT Program — this was a herculean effort that only succeeded with the contribution of human and financial resources from AED, the Arlington Industrial Development Authority and Arlington’s three Business Improvement Districts. The BIG team played a pivotal role in developing the grant infrastructure as well as fielding calls and requests from hundreds of businesses. Not only did this provide direct assistance to our small businesses, but it strengthened working relationships across AED and within the community, which continue to bear fruit today.
Second, through our efforts to check in regularly with our businesses and provide relevant resources, we developed new ways to stay digitally engaged. The BIG team put together six webinars on a range of relevant topics, built three custom websites, and completed 600-plus touch points with Arlington companies and brokers this year.
Last but not least, we saw many incredibly positive things come out of our business community this year including new retail openings, notable fundraising, business pivots and corporate philanthropy.
As BIG looks ahead to 2021, we are hopeful that “normal” business activity will pick up again as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available and companies feel comfortable making decisions about their office space needs. We have stayed in close contact with our companies and the broker community and, despite our shift from business attraction to business support for much of 2020, the team took advantage of this “pause” to assess what’s been working well and what needs to change to seize opportunities in the months ahead.
We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but we are ready for it with a stellar team that’s developed new tools, skill sets and strengthened existing partnerships.