Community IMPACT Series: Urban Conservancy, July 6, 2010

New Orleans, LA – Community IMPACT Series: Urban Conservancy, July 6, 2010

Sometimes, deciding where we spend our money comes down to the most convenient option, or, thanks to relentless marketing, whatever brand name springs to mind first. But the Urban Conservancy asks people in the New Orleans area to also consider a broader impact of those decisions.

"A lot of what we do and promote through our Stay Local program, which is the flagship initiative of the Urban Conservancy, is about understanding the power in your back pocket and that you have a lot of say about the strength and resiliency of your own neighborhood by deciding where to spend those dollars in your pocket, understanding that wealth retention and wealth generation within your community starts with you the consumer," says Dana Eness, executive director of the Urban Conservancy.

Eness says the group's goal is to promote the wise stewardship of the urban fabric in communities across the five-parish greater New Orleans area. That fabric is the architecture and the ambiance of neighborhoods and also the ways people interact with their communities, especially through locally-owned businesses. She says nothing demonstrated the value of these businesses quite like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"After Katrina, the locally-owned businesses came back first when we needed them most, and they did not wait for infrastructure, they didn't wait for the lights to come on, they didn't wait for city services to come back," Eness says. "When they get back up and running, the neighborhood can get back up and running."

To help local businesses recover quickly after the next disruption, the Urban Conservancy tapped support from the Greater New Orleans Foundation to launch a business continuity training program. It was targeted at technical assistance providers from groups like the Red Cross and Good Work Network, people who work with local businesses year-round. The goal is to help build continuity planning right into companies' business models, encouraging them to develop data back-up systems and plans to operate after disasters.

"In order to be resilient, to come back as quickly as possible, you need to put the planning in place at a quiet time, when you don't have a hurricane blowing down your neck," Eness says.

That can mean crafting a plan to meet payroll after a disruption, being prepared to run on generators if necessary and - for some essential recovery businesses - getting reentry placards to get back to work fast. Essentially, it all means fostering a culture of preparedness within businesses and across a local business community.
The upshot is that even if no emergency develops in a given year, the process of preparing may well increase business productivity and efficiency all the same. That could help locally-owned businesses stay competitive, and Eness says robust local businesses signal a healthy urban fabric.

"Although we often equate small with local, we shouldn't," she says. "Because local businesses are an animal unto themselves. The nature of their commitment to this place, their emotional as well as their financial commitment to this place, makes it possible for them to stick around for three generations even when there are hurricanes and things that are threatening them periodically. And so I think we, I would love for us to, think instead of about small versus large, think about our locally owned businesses regardless of the size as something special and worth patronizing."