A Lesson from a Tornado – Collaboration Wins

By Ron Arnold: Executive Director
Daviess County Economic Development Corporation

thanks - tornado

It was out of season, unexpected and devastating. In mid-November of 2013, a series of massive storms spawned lines of destructive tornados in Illinois and Indiana, ripping up millions of dollars in damages. The city of Washington (Indiana) was hit again, this time plowing through the southeast section of town and annihilating businesses and homes alike. As residents and officials pulled together in recovery, some very important lessons were learned. After the storms passed, blue skies shown down on a devastated city, much of which was out of electrical power and utilities. The mayor immediately laid on a curfew to help protect residents from downed power lines and open up resources for rescue workers.

Miraculously, despite the devastating power of the tornado that pushed homes off of foundations and crumpled rooftops, no one was killed. Another miracle came next, which we can all draw a major lesson from for positive economic development and growth.

Displaying an amazing resiliency, local residents immediately mobilized and began pitching in to clean up the devastation. Hundreds signed up as formal volunteers, and gathered daily at organizational points to get to work. Local construction companies donated equipment and expert operators to help clear debris and open roads.

In short, it was an unscripted “can-do” attitude of service and collaboration that quickly help set Washington back on its feet. It’s important to note that one cannot make people have this kind of collaborative attitude. The positive “let’s get busy” mindset attracted all kinds of volunteers from around the state, and even church groups from Tennessee arrived to help.

I submit that this kind of “can-do” collaborative attitude represents a key strength of Hoosier culture. While we have all kinds of major economic development assets scattered around the state in the form of universities, regional development groups, and workforce development entities, when we all pool these resources and pull together, real advancement happens.

So what are some take-aways that we can put to use in 2014? Consider these lessons from the Washington tornado:

  • If nobody cares who gets the credit, the sky’s the limit. Egos got parked at the door in the Washington recovery, and that’s a great place to start in assembling a “can-do” economic development effort.
  • Collaboration – working together for a joint goal – trumps regional or local competition. Too many “economic development” efforts focus on cannibalizing jobs and companies from one place to another. Working together to create grass-roots opportunities that spawn winning scenarios is probably more complex, but has longer-lasting benefits that are transformational.
  • Success and positive environments are attractive. Grumbling and intense competition are repelling. The hundreds of volunteers who came together to rebuild Washington found great enjoyment and achievement in the process. There was no favoritism in recovery.
  • Setting realistic and shared expectations helps marshal assets strategically. Following a disaster, not everything can get done all at once. Developing shared priorities reduces friction and helps build momentum.
  • Over-communication provides people with key information that they need to do their part. Holding back or not communicating adequately can lead to unnecessary conflict and wasted resources.

In short, the strategic strength of unique Hoosier collaboration came to life in Washington, and the entire region benefitted. That level of powerful collaboration—all working together for a common good—produces real and lasting transformation. Let’s take the lessons of the Washington tornado and get to work in 2014!