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EDA taps LU professors for project with national impact

When the Economic Development Agency called for an economic recovery and resiliency program for Southeast Texas, they turned to a team of investigators at Lamar University to tackle the task.

Last fall Drs. Henry Venta and James Slaydon received a $440, 000 grant to develop a framework for EDA to implement to help Southeast Texas recover from disasters such as Tropical Storm Harvey. Work on the two-year grant began in November 2018, and the first two quarterly reports from the ongoing project have now been submitted.  

“The scope of work is organized in seven areas,” said Venta, the principal investigator on the project. “We are attempting to track what happened after Harvey and determine where the gaps are – what worked and what didn’t. For example, electronic communication was difficult after Harvey.  Our first responders needed to have better access getting their cell phones to work. Aspects like that have come to light already, so we can report those so that agencies like EDA can devote resources to filling the gaps.”

As defined by the scope, the first project task is to “conduct industry, business, workforce and community needs assessments via community outreach efforts to gather baseline data, estimate economic losses as a direct result of Hurricane Harvey and complete a disaster preparedness and economic recovery survey and report.”

“We’re attempting to create a number of focus groups from different sectors of the economy and ask basic questions,” said Venta.

The scope of the project mandates a team to collect data about businesses that struggled and closed after the storm as well as those that faced challenges but remained viable.  The team of investigators will develop partnerships to create a regional coalition on recovery and resiliency initiatives through coordination with South East Texas Regional Planning Commission (SETRPC) that may include chambers of commerce, municipalities, economic development corporations, government agencies and other organizations involved in economic recovery and resiliency activities. Additionally, an Economic Recovery and Resiliency Symposium to communicate information on needs assessments, economic conditions and strategies to support economic recovery and resiliency and establish Lamar University as an information hub on recovery and resiliency resources in the region will be held in February or March 2020.

“We’re gathering a large amount of information from everywhere and want people to know of our efforts,” said Venta. “There is a lot we have to do to recover from a disaster but what we’ll need to determine is if should we be recovering in the same way we have in the past.”

Since the launch of the project, the initial investigators, Venta, a professor of management, and Slaydon, an associate professor of finance, both in the College of Business, have added colleagues from the College of Business to the investigative team including Ricardo Colon, professor and department chair of accounting and business law, and Gevorg Sargsyan, an instructor of finance. The scope of work includes hiring undergraduate students to complete the project.

The team has also identified collaborators on the project. An investigative team led by Judith Mann, Lamar University’s special assistant to the vice provost and associate professor of psychology, is researching the recovering and resiliency of communities, and the LU’s Center for the Advances in Port Management, is serving as a clearing house for information about recovery and resiliency of ports, not just locally but worldwide. 

“We’re all working together and matching the interest of all involved,” said Venta. “Mann is focused on communities; we’re focused on economics and the Center for Advances in Port Management is focused on crisis management in the waterways, so we’re a good counter balance, one to another.”

Once all data is collected, investigators will analyze it and develop a regional economic recovery plan, coordinate activities with local, state and federal partners and identify funding opportunities that support economic recovery and resiliency in the region.

Venta says he hopes that the outcome of the project will be a list of priorities for resource allocation. “I think we’ll find that in the future, resources should go to recovery efforts that have the greatest impact on the community.”

The “Recovery and Resiliency Program” will maintain a website hosting a large repository of data.

“This information will certainly impact our community and likely the whole nation,” said Venta.