Rethinking Business: Learning from a City’s Strategies to Reopen
Key takeaways from Riveron’s Executive Insight Series Chicago-based February 2021 virtual event.
Riveron leaders welcomed guest expert Robin Ficke, Director of Research for World Business Chicago, to discuss favorable trends in the Chicago business community despite the economic impacts of COVID-19. Whether organizations are based in the Midwest or other regions, the insights offer wide-ranging implications, allowing executives to reimagine brands and strengthen business strategy in anticipation of pandemic-related recovery phases.
Chicago charts an exemplary path for businesses to recover and thrive
The panel discussion examined Chicago’s position as a leader in developing responses throughout the pandemic and the formation of the Chicago Recovery Task Force. Key takeaways:
- Check regularly published data available to the public to see how a city compares to others.
- Identify the strengths within that city and build business and economic strategies upon those strengths to help drive recovery.
- Ever-changing metrics and disruption related to COVID-19 require business leaders to be adaptable. Leaders must regularly revisit strategic and tactical responses in order to remain effective and relevant in the market.
To grow, businesses should play to local and regional strengths
In down times, businesses and communities should focus momentum on already-established strengths to keep economies, workforce metrics, and revenues moving in the right direction.
For example, Chicago has a strong history as the center of food manufacturing, and currently the data shows employment levels in the food manufacturing sector above pre-COVID numbers in most categories. Bakeries, sugar/confectionary manufacturing, and sales of consumer products for at-home baked goods have flourished during the pandemic. Successful initiatives related to food technology innovation is also helping Chicago-area businesses to enhance the industry. Intentional planning to create combined economic momentum is a key factor here—in Chicago, locating food technology businesses near food manufacturing centers has helped drive success.
To prepare now and emerge stronger post-pandemic, business leaders need to work with government strategists at the local and regional levels to build upon the industries that exhibit the most potential strengths. Continuing to research, connect, and invest in these focus areas can help differentiate and grow local and regional economies, fostering meaningful job growth and driving business revenues.
Ignore headlines: inform strategies with (publicly available) data
When mapping out business decisions, it can be tempting to assume that the consumer behavior is trending in an unfavorable direction due to COVID-19 challenges. Expert discussion cautioned against this, encouraging business leaders not to rely on negative news headlines, but instead look to the relevant data available. Regularly published economic and business data tells the true story for local market behavior and helps make informed decisions.
Data shows that Chicago is a leading city in the nation for consumer spending, and several other markers indicate positive economic momentum—despite news headlines that may imply negative impacts to market behavior:
- In Chicago, restaurant spending is down, spending behavior that is consistent with other markets during pandemic-related restrictions.
- By contrast, spending has increased significantly in categories such as furniture, home improvement, and clothing. The numbers indicate that individuals are still finding ways to spend, and businesses should also be nimble and willing to change to meet existing and emerging consumer demand.
- Related to commercial real estate, despite national headlines of many office-based companies enacting permanent work-from-home policies, corporate office relocation and expansion is high in Chicago.
- Data also shows O’Hare International Airport as a leader in trade activity, positioning Chicago as the top port in the country at times, with volumes up comparing Dec. 2020 to the prior December. Business leaders can similarly compare current trends to prior year data to inform related strategies.
Riveron’s Executive Insights event showcased many strengths and emerging business trends prevalent in Chicago. Business strategists in other cities and regions throughout the US can follow similar approaches, while focusing on data relevant to local industries, competencies, and market needs. While challenging, COVID-19 disruption presents an opportunity to reimagine next steps for municipalities and businesses. Armed with the available data, individuals and businesses can lead with more informed decisions on consumer and workforce safety, enact better plans for re-opening, and to find new ways to interact with customers in local and regional markets.