Regional Approaches to Resilience: A Tour of Resilience Work Around the Country


Disaster can strike anywhere. In recent years, the country has experienced record floods in the Midwest, drought in the West, tornadoes and severe thunderstorms in the Southeast, wildfires in the Southwest, and blizzards in the Northeast. In 2011 alone, the country endured 16 separate weather and climate events that caused at least $1 billion in damage, not to mention the long-term impacts felt by residents and businesses as communities continue to rebuild and recover.[1]

In addition to these natural disasters, communities throughout the country are also faced with the ripple effects of the Great Recession and the ongoing economic disruptions of our changing global economy. Whether it’s diversifying the regional economy away from a declining sector, or dealing with the impacts of a military base realignment or the shuttering of a major employer, many communities are currently attempting to transition their economies in order to recover from these disruptive events – all while wondering if and when it is going to happen again.

Resilience is a relatively new topic of discussion within many regional development organizations (RDOs) across the country, though many of its fundamental themes have permeated their work for years. RDOs—an umbrella term for the councils of government, regional planning commissions, economic development districts, and other multi-jurisdictional planning and economic development organizations that exist throughout the country—are finding new and innovative ways to better position their regions to withstand and quickly recover from the effects of natural disasters, a changing climate, and other economic shocks.

Since these hazards do not confine themselves to jurisdictional boundaries, RDOs play a critical role in building resilience to them. With their regional perspective and interdisciplinary focus, their ability to navigate federal programs, their technical expertise, and their broad network of partners at all levels of government and in the private and philanthropic sectors, RDOs are uniquely positioned to not only help communities bounce back from these disruptions efficiently and effectively but to also reposition the region to “bounce forward” stronger, smarter, and better prepared than before.

This series of case studies highlights regional development organizations across the country that recognize the importance of becoming more resilient to natural disasters and other economic disruptions and are taking meaningful action towards building regional resilience such as integrating regional planning efforts, prioritizing resilient transportation investments, diversifying their economies, assessing economic vulnerabilities, promoting green infrastructure and safe development, and more.  This tour of resilience work around the country is intended to show the multi-faceted role the RDO can play in positioning their region to be better able to withstand and recover from future disruptions, ultimately creating stronger, more resilient regions.

Regional Approaches to Resilience:

This project is supported by EDA under Agreement Nos. 04-79-06700, 04-06-06694, and 01-79-14223.  Any opinions, findings, or recommendations expressed in these case studies are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EDA or the NADO Research Foundation. 

[1] “Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Table of Events.” National Centers for Environmental Information. NOAA. <>


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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

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