The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: Gold standard collaboration

The Business Plan with Bill Reagan: Gold standard collaboration
Bill Reagan (Alexandria Small Business Development Center)

While we wince at the scorched-earth chaos at the national level, there’s a contrasting sense of civility, collaboration and productivity in Northern Virginia and in our own community.

The Northern Virginia Economic Alliance, a joint effort by 10 jurisdictions to work across borders on business recruitment and marketing efforts, is celebrating its first anniversary. This collaboration grew out of the success of four Northern Virginia jurisdictions who worked together to win the Amazon HQ2 bid.

The concept of highlighting the region’s collective assets quickly adapted to coordinated efforts to weather the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the region’s businesses. The alliance enabled a more agile approach for participating jurisdictions to connect their businesses to resources, information and both national and local loan and grant programs. As for many of us, the alliance’s emphasis is now pivoting to focus on recovery and resilience processes.

The Alexandria community has long established itself as one of the foremost examples of collaboration and coordination of efforts. Collegiality is the hallmark of Alexandria’s economic development, small business, tourism, chamber of commerce, city government as well as business, nonprofit and civic associations. Our focus is not on who gets credit but instead, on sustaining a supportive ecosystem where businesses can thrive.

The severe impacts of this pandemic have necessitated all of us jumping into action, assessing what drastic steps need to be taken and working together to not only mitigate the challenges that seem to escalate daily, but also to implement approaches adapted to the new normal.

Alexandria’s leadership and business community have been at the forefront of responsive action. Some of the most obvious examples can be seen in the thriving outdoor dining scene on King Street, where longstanding right of way policies had to be quickly and drastically adapted. 

Business and economic development organizations have carefully coordinated information and outreach efforts so that individual business owners struggling with uncertainty and severe economic losses get the latest information, learn about assistance efforts and receive pointers on adapting their businesses to new realities. 

One of the realities that is becoming clearer is that the new normal is not a phase, and that social and business practices have likely been permanently changed. To succeed, businesses must make adjustments, and many community organizations are working together to help that happen.

The network of small business development centers throughout Virginia is pooling statewide small business expertise to answer complex questions. The SBDC network has established a Business Recovery site with timely guidance for business revival.

And it’s not just organizations that are working together. Businesses themselves are demonstrating unprecedented levels of collegiality by helping one another and passing along tips they’ve learned or sources they’ve uncovered. 

The pandemic has necessitated many reassessments of the way we used to do things, and it’s become essential to make quick adjustments on the fly. Our region and community are far ahead of others because we’ve practiced collaboration and know how to bring out the best in one another. We are all in this together.

The writer is executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.