Posted on 12/08/20 by Cara O'Donnell
As we enter the final stretch of what can only be described as the most unpredictable year in most of our lifetimes, we in Arlington Economic Development wanted to take a step back and reflect. With the stress, the craziness and the shifting of new ways to do things (anyone else never want to hear the phrase “you’re on mute” again?), the AED team has learned some valuable lessons throughout the course of this year – namely, how we can help you, our business community in Arlington.
A year ago, we’d all envisioned a very different 2020. Arlington was still riding the momentum of success from the Amazon HQ2 announcement and was looking forward not only to the company’s arrival but also the arrival of other businesses eager to be a part of the community. Our small businesses were thriving; our hotel industry was at the top of statewide rankings; we were beginning prosperous new regional partnerships and collaboration, and we were looking forward to new investments in education and tech talent.
Remember that? It seems so long ago now.
The shutdowns across our community – and across the globe – associated with the COVID-19 pandemic were swift, upending and in some cases, catastrophic. We saw a number of our small businesses - some longtime members of our community - close their doors. We all made the transition to full-time teleworking and handled new guidelines that were rapidly changing and forcing our business community to change on a dime as well.
We in Arlington Economic Development knew we had to step back, and become even more of a resource, not only for for our vital, existing business community, but for those most in need of assistance. We immediately set up a business resource section of our website dedicated to providing businesses with crucial information – everything from the latest on available funding at the federal and local levels to webinars on how to transition business operations to updated lists of small businesses offering online or takeout options. We connected our hoteliers with representatives from the County’s Department of Human Services and Virginia Hospital Center who were looking for potential housing sites for essential personnel. We offered important webinars and info sessions to provide help on federal funding applications. With the work of Arlington County staff and the contributions of our partners, the Arlington Industrial Development Authority and the Ballston, National Landing (then Crystal City) and Rosslyn Business Improvement Districts, we were able to execute Arlington’s Small Business Emergency GRANT program, providing short-term financial assistance to nearly 400 Arlington businesses.
And the work didn’t end there. We continued informational sessions and webinars to keep our business community informed on the latest guidelines and how to safely return to work if needed. AED collaborated with several County departments to ease parking restrictions, increase signage opportunities and create special temporary outdoor seating areas called TOSAs to support our businesses and offer restaurants the opportunity to increase seating areas in an era of physical distancing. We streamed cultural affairs programming to bring the arts home. Our staff even came together at the Arlington Textile Studio to make thousands of face coverings for nonprofits and county workers.
Looking back now, the entire experience, while sometimes tense and nerve-wracking, showed us all just how innovative and resilient Arlington’s business community can be. We've seen some of our closed businesses already looking ahead to the future. We saw businesses pivot – not just to stay in business themselves, but to help their neighboring businesses as well. We saw everyone working together for the benefit of the entire business community. And it’s made all of us in AED realize just how fortunate we are to be a part of it all – to embrace the talents of a truly amazing economic ecosystem and work as partners as we look to the future.
Topic: BIG Update