Help Your Networks With Housing and Utility Challenges

Help Your Networks With Housing and Utility Challenges

If you work in the field of economic development, and more specifically if you have an economic interest in the real estate industry, then you know the value of stability in the marketplace. Significant events with adverse economic impacts, such as COVID-19 and a derecho, can have a cascading effect on jobs, families, and the economy generally. That is why it has been important for government, non-profit organizations, and businesses to support activities that collectively create a safety net – to provide some measure of economic stability. It’s one of the reasons the State of Iowa, local governments and community organizations created their own economic recovery grant programs. Other nationwide support systems, such as unemployment benefits, the Paycheck Protection Program and various forms of natural disaster assistance, have also been important.

To be sure, these are imperfect systems, and one can debate the effectiveness of various policy alternatives or the extent to which we can borrow from the future to pay for them. But there is no question that they have provided an important lifeline to many during these challenging times. While some programs have ended or are winding down, there are some that will continue for a few months longer. Two of them are designed to help people stay in their homes and businesses by assisting with rent and utility expenses.

Iowa COVID-19 Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention (EFP) Program

The Iowa Finance Authority (IFA) reported last week that rental assistance has been provided to just over 2000 applicants equaling approximately $4.8 million. On the foreclosure side, the EFP Program has awarded nearly $135,000 to 61 applicants. Approximately $15 million in funds remain in the program, which will remain open until funds are exhausted or until December, 2020, whichever comes first.

IFA reports that the program has seen a significant increase in the number of applications being submitted since August 1. On Tuesday, August 4, it was announced that Iowans who have been receiving $600 a week in federal unemployment stimulus benefits may now apply for the rent and mortgage assistance. For more information, visit https://www.iowafinance.com/covid-19-iowa-eviction-and-foreclosure-prevention-program/.

Iowa Small Business Utility Disruption Prevention Program

The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) recently announced that more Iowa small business owners and nonprofits are now eligible to receive financial assistance with electric and natural gas utility bills. Eligibility criteria for the Iowa Small Business Utility Disruption Prevention Program has been expanded to include utility assistance for eligible small businesses and nonprofits for electric or natural gas service provided between March 17, 2020 and October 15, 2020.

To be eligible, small businesses and nonprofits must have experienced a COVID-19 loss of income. Financial assistance of up to $7,500 is available. Payment’s would be made directly to an applicant’s utility service provider. The program will accept applications through October 31, 2020 or until all funds have been exhausted. The state allocated approximately $14.5 million of federal CARES Act funds for the program when launched in early July.

For more information, visit https://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/Business/energy-recovery or call 515.348.8914 (toll free: 855.300.2342).

The Enterprise Iowa team encourages our clients and affiliated organizations to share this information with everyone in their various networks. Let’s do what we can to ensure that the individuals and businesses in need of this assistance get connected with these resources. It is the type of help that can increase economic stability for the benefit of all.

Businesses Prepare for Venture Into Nomanneslonde

Businesses Prepare for Venture Into Nomanneslonde

What is the proper metaphor for the situation in which many business owners and managers now find themselves? How do you describe the territory in between the critical need to get business and the economy moving again, and the need to protect the safety and well-being of the people making the economy function?

Printing and distributing new money to keep businesses and people afloat increases debt and can be the cause of serious, unintended and long-term consequences. Moving people into settings where a highly contagious new virus with many unknown factors is still present can also produce bad, sometimes terminal, results. To borrow a very old term, the most appropriate metaphor seems to be “No Man’s Land.” Many are choosing sides. Out of fear and concern for public health and the safety of family, some wish to continue to keep things closed. Others, whose viability as a company, organization or even household are at stake, wish to get back to work and start earning income again as soon as possible. The space in between is where the solutions must be found.

It’s not an easy problem to solve for many organizations with a business model built on a certain volume of activity. Theaters, stadiums, commercial airplanes, restaurants and bars require certain numbers of customers to break even or make a profit. Impose a 50% capacity rule or require a six-foot “set-back” between customers, and the previous profit and loss calculations just may not work anymore. So, what should a business do as the temporary financial assistance programs begin to expire?

Make a Plan for Alternative Scenarios

It’s tough to plan in the midst of a crisis, but it is a necessary exercise. Based on the current rules that apply to a particular business type, consider the following scenarios.

  • What would happen if those rules are extended for an additional one, two or six months? Longer? Do the math.
  • What would happen if some rules are relaxed, such as occupancy limits of 50% or 70% of maximum capacity? Or what happens if customer behavior doesn’t return to “normal” after rules are relaxed? Again, do the math.
  • Account for changes in the workforce. Will 100% or 50% of employees be available to return to work, and will they feel safe in returning to work?
  • Account for changes in the supply chain. Will the resources and materials required to make the product be available, or has there been a disruption in supplies and materials? How much can be produced given alternative conditions?

Companies and organizations must do this planning. Larger companies and manufacturers are already doing this, and resources such as CIRAS at Iowa State University are helping them. Smaller businesses also need to be doing this planning. What business plan or path will provide the greatest opportunity for success? What steps are needed to implement it?

Take Steps to Provide a Safe Work Environment

Federal and state public health officials are publishing and regularly updating guidelines or suggestions for operating safely as things begin to be “reopened”. Review them carefully and decide what the best options are. Here is a short list of recently published information from authoritative sources.

Communicate With Business Partners and Employees

Now is not the time to hunker down and wait for the next proclamation. Make a call or set up a video conference with the appropriate professionals, including the accountants, lenders, employment professionals, attorneys, landlords and business peers. Put the facts on the table and ask for advice and help. They want and need their customers to survive and succeed.

Employees and contractors also need to be part of the conversation. Answer their questions. Ask for their input. Show them what is going to be done to provide for a safe work environment. Explore best practices and options. There is no one “best practice,” so welcome ideas and use a consensus-building approach.

As events unfold, expect to see professional firms and trade associations step forward with legal, human resources, financial and general business advice. For example, here are two specific webinars with companion slide decks and resources published by legal and employment service providers with operations in the Des Moines area.

Business owners and managers should ask their affiliated professional service providers to help get them connected with similar privately sponsored but publicly accessible resources. Importantly, share this information with your colleagues, peers, employees and contractors as it becomes available.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership has launched a new resource, DSM Forward with industry specific and business function “playbooks” and an FAQ, which provides a framework for business owners and managers to develop action plans for reopening. These playbooks are not recipes for reopening, but rather are outlines that can be used by individual businesses to make decisions about how various issues will be handled based on their unique characteristics and circumstances.

Do you have a need for more specific information, or do you have suggestion for a topic or issue that should be included in a future DSM Forward playbook? DSM has published a short survey to organize those questions and suggestions.

Summary

Reopening is like stepping into a “Nomanneslonde” in many respects. There are many unknowns, but we think it is possible to move the economy forward with thoughtful business planning, care for the health, safety and well-being of everyone at work and in the marketplace, and open and frequent communications with business partners and co-workers. Onward!

Have an idea or best practice for reopening? Share it with us!

Caucus Lessons for the Project Manager

Caucus Lessons for the Project Manager

The Iowa Caucus is over and the candidates have moved on. Since the results were announced (still not completely final at this writing) there have been numerous stories and articles dissecting just what went wrong. Whose fault was it anyway, and how can it be prevented from ever happening again? Will this kill the Iowa Caucus as we know it? Let’s leave it to the pundits to continue the discussion about methods for counting delegates, alleged interference with the Iowa Democratic Party phone banks, or the now infamous “APP.”

Like many folks interested in politics, I tuned in to the media to learn the results of the caucus. I optimistically stayed up later than usual hoping for some breaking news. But there were only angry journalists and quizzical expert analysts. For some reason my thoughts that evening turned to the many times I’ve read and heard about the high percentage of projects that fail, and what a good project manager should do to ensure success. As a project manager, what lessons could I learn from this event?

First, have some empathy. Haven’t most of us experienced a project that failed? The possible causes are endless, and no matter what the textbook says, a project manager usually doesn’t have control over all the variables. I don’t know who the project manager was in this case, or even if there was one, but whoever the people involved were, I feel badly for them. I know what crisis management is, and it is hard.

Managing risk has also been a strong theme as I think about the caucus. It isn’t hindsight that tells us that the impact of failure was off the charts. We’ve seen it play out before our eyes in a very public way. But how do we measure the probability of failure? In this case there were multiple points of potential problems, ranging from the event itself and the tabulation of results to the primary and secondary methods for reporting the information. The fact that there could be no flexibility in the launch date was also a factor. For many projects, the act of pushing back the schedule a week isn’t such a big deal. For this event, no such opportunity existed. As I think about my current and future project activities, this is a stark reminder to take risk management very seriously.

Hidden in the reporting was a small item that stood out to me as an issue that may have increased the risk of failure. The essence is that an external party had allegedly required a security update shortly before moving the application into production. The specific facts are not known, but haven’t we all experienced the last-minute request of a stakeholder or product owner? Of course, we want to be agile and satisfy the request, but we also know that the introduction of something new can increase risk and affect the quality or performance of a product.

A final lesson for me is the importance of communication with all of the stakeholders. In this case it included the caucus participants, the volunteers in the so-called “boiler room,” the media, the candidates themselves and the entire community of the State of Iowa. As project managers we will all at some point be confronted with the challenge of balancing the desire to “buy time” and “get it fixed first” with the benefits of being open and transparent with all of our stakeholders. That is such a tough judgment to make, but when the impact and probability of failure is high, I am reminded that it is vital to plan for those communication actions in advance.

My hope is that cool heads will prevail and that the Iowa caucuses will continue. It is an imperfect but valuable process. In the meantime, these are a few lessons that will stay with me for a long, long time.

This blog was first published on the Project Management Institute (PMI) blog for the Central Iowa chapter.

Ballot Issues and the Non-Profit Organization Manager

Ballot Issues and the Non-Profit Organization Manager

Think about the position of a not-for-profit organization in a community considering a ballot issue to raise taxes (school bond issue, public facility levy, local option tax). The organization probably has members on both sides of the issue. Some may just be against tax increases of any kind. Others may benefit directly or indirectly in some way – they may be a construction contractor or perhaps a financial institution providing resources for a project. There are any number of possibilities. What should they do if asked to express an opinion on the subject?

Choosing Sides or Choosing Silence

Choosing sides, and overtly favoring or opposing a ballot is probably not the right direction to go. Someone is sure to be unhappy – and that’s just not a good place to be for an organization dependent on member dues, investments or charitable contributions. Not to mention, certain not-for-profit organizations can’t take sides without jeopardizing status with the Internal Revenue Service.

Remaining silent doesn’t seem constructive either. A community organization such as a local development group should care about tax policy, public budgets and generally the business climate in their respective communities. “No comment” just doesn’t work.

Staying Neutral While Getting Involved

In most cases the right answer is help inform their members and contributors, the community and voters of the factors to consider when making their decision in the voting place. For example, a reasonable stance for any economic develop organization is to support a tax policy that is stable, predictable and comparable to neighboring communities. The conventional wisdom would be that a tax policy that is in the range of “normal” isn’t going to affect business location decisions, and the community will likely have enough resources to provide reasonable levels of service.

Non-profit organizations can also bring their knowledge about an issue to the table and share information about factors that might affect policy choices. Again, using the economic development organization as an example, this might include things like the ratio of commercial to residential property in a community, the comparative density of development, the cultural and social characteristics of the community, or the comparative level of average household incomes. Helping people understand facts and context can simply contribute to more informed decision making. And broadly speaking, shouldn’t everyone work to foster civil community engagement?

Walking the Line

Walking the line between advocacy and opposition can be a tricky path to follow, and keeping information balanced and factual is not easy. Silence is the easy option, but not necessarily the right one. If you find yourself at this trailhead, our team has the background and experience to help you navigate safely.

Welcome to Enterprise Iowa

Enterprise Iowa, Inc. is a project management and organizational management firm.  Since 2000 we have been privileged to work on many successful projects. Most have been within the confines of the State of Iowa, but some have involved issues at a regional or national scale.  Our background and experience in managing projects is diverse ranging from business operations to public policy initiatives.  The bottom line is that we have the project and program management skills to work with subject matter experts in almost any area to accomplish an organizational objective.  We have evolved into a project management firm with the capability to manage a project to completion and then carry it forward into program operations.

Many of our early experiences originated in the public sector where we worked to apply entrepreneurial and private sector approaches to public programs and services.  We also take some pride in applying a Midwestern work ethic and Iowa values to our work. This is the source of the name Enterprise Iowa.

Our home base is in the Greater Des Moines region – specifically Johnston, Iowa.  If you have a project or program which demands successful implementation please contact us to arrange an initial consultation.