Coronavirus: Time to power up, not off

By Chris Knight

The coronavirus is forcing economic developers to reconsider our normal modus operandi, focus on value added activities and alternative modes of delivery.

In a poll conducted in our recent webinar sessions which attracted around 300 IPAs/ EDOs combined, 70% of organizations participating indicated they had cancelled ALL overseas exhibitions, whilst 28% reported cancelling only some. 52% of participating organizations also indicated an anticipated decline in FDI this year for their cities and regions of 10-25% and 20% indicated they anticipated a drop off of more than 25%.

We’re all reconfiguring therefore how to supplement this gap left by major events and tradeshows which have become a cornerstone of investment promotion activities as they present the opportunity to showcase a location, engage with multiple potential investors and intermediaries in a concentrated burst.

The short-term inability to continue business as usual also provides us with space to consider what we can do differently and possibly better. Some of my thoughts on this:

  • We have become too reliant on major tradeshows and events as an accelerator for investment successes. Coronavirus is likely to result in a correction of their priority and focus especially as the corporate world is rapidly embracing smart working solutions and enforcing sustainable practices. There is no doubt that they will continue to have a significant role, but the frenzy of speed dating among a sea of competitors is not always conducive to long term sustained investor relationships. There is scope to enhance the development of commercially focussed relationships on with companies – through a combination of boots on the ground but to really leverage the virtual approach in the short term.  Clients like Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority (DAFZA) highlight it’s “Smart Services” to enable companies to move forward with their investment plans and may others are shifting from in market visits to virtual meeting programmes.
  • This time can also be used to reflect on how we better position the place offer. This is more than a refresh of the investment proposition – it’s about working collaboratively with stakeholders across cities and regions to re-position, differentiate and leverage strengths where appropriate. This is even more important as the current crisis is likely to see a shift to regional rather than global strategies for sourcing and supply chains so there is opportunity to build a specific offer around this.
  • We can also take time to consider how we upskill both individually and as wider organizations to enable us to be better equipped.  Now might be the time to really get to grips with a more nuanced understanding of the ecosystem of disruptive sectors like cybersecurity and Al and changing market dynamics. But we also need to upskill around investment practices as economic developers need to adapt more quickly as conditions are increasingly being influenced more by policy changes in major source countries, disruptive technologies, and natural disasters than the cyclical ups and downs in economic activity and sectors.

In the midst of this crisis, it’s easy to feel powerless as events unfold at break-neck speed, but in fact we have an opportunity to help our communities stay strong, resilient and recover from economic shock as quickly as possible. Now is time to recharge our power.

Download our free webinar presentation on the 'Global impact of the Coronavirus on FDI in 2020' 

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