Southwestern Massachusetts: Strengthening Businesses and Communities through Disaster Recovery

This case study is part of a series produced by the NADO Research Foundation exploring how regional development organizations1 have addressed the impacts of natural disasters, built resilience to future events, and increased long-term economic competitiveness and quality of life in their regions. This project is supported by the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) under Agreement No. 01-79-14223. Any opinions, findings, or recommendations expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EDA or the NADO Research Foundation. 

A Disastrous Year

Key FactsOn June 1, 2011, a series of six tornados ripped through New England. The largest and most destructive tornado touched down in Western Massachusetts, moving through 11 communities in Hampden and Worcester Counties. Tornados are not uncommon in New England;  the region averages eight per year.2 However, few, if any, are as intense as the 2011 event. The twister caused three deaths and an estimated $23.9 million in damages to uninsured buildings, roads, and infrastructure. It destroyed 319 homes and left an additional 600 homeowners with major structural damage to their property.3 The bulk of the destruction was in the City of Springfield, the City of West Springfield, and the Town of Monson.

The region was confronted with two more severe weather events in 2011: Tropical Storm Irene in August and a severe Nor’easter in October. While neither resulted in the same level of damage as the tornado, they increased the scale and urgency of the region’s recovery efforts. The wind and rain from Tropical Storm Irene destroyed 84 homes, damaged an additional 289 residences, and caused $25 million in road and bridge damage within the Pioneer Valley region.4 The Nor’easter dumped up to two and a half feet of snow atop trees that still had foliage. The weight of the snow combined with the storm’s high winds brought down trees and power lines, resulting in blocked roads and highways, damaged cars and homes, and five deaths. Approximately 670,000 residents lost power, many for more than a week.5

Supporting Local Recovery Efforts

In the wake of these disasters, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) worked closely with the affected towns and cities in their region to help them rebuild, recover, and ultimately be better prepared for the next disaster. Shortly after the tornado, PVPC and the City of Springfield were awarded a disaster recovery grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to assist with the recovery process. PVPC was provided with $37,000 for local capacity building and the City of Springfield was given $250,000 to develop a rebuilding strategy. Both the awards were matched with local funds.6

Rebuild Springfield

A Pioneer Valley home is crushed by a fallen tree during the tornado in 2011. Credit: Dan Brewer
A Pioneer Valley home is crushed by a fallen tree during the tornado in 2011. Credit: Dan Brewer

Springfield, the largest city in the Pioneer Valley, experienced some of the worst damage from the tornado, with over $170 million in damage and a one mile stretch of debris left where homes and businesses once stood.7 The Nor’easter in October resulted in an additional $30 million in damage.8 The destruction from both disasters was exacerbated by some of the city’s existing problems of blight, abandoned homes, debris, and overgrowth.9 As a result, Develop Springfield, the city’s nascent redevelopment authority, spearheaded a citizen-led planning process called Rebuild Springfield. PVPC worked closely with Develop Springfield, offering resources and staff support.

The public participation for Rebuild Springfield was tremendous, with more than 3,000 residents involved in the process. Jay Minkarah, president and CEO of Develop Springfield, said, “The planning process became a part of the healing process for Springfield residents. We were able to stop thinking about what was lost and start thinking about possibilities for the future.”10 He also noted that the community participation extended beyond the planning process. In the wake of these disasters, residents came together in unprecedented numbers to start crime watches, join councils, and organize to rebuild their community.

Rebuild Springfield’s planning process totaled nearly $500,000, with $250,000 provided through the City’s EDA disaster recovery grant and $250,000 in matching funds from private donors.  While the plan was initially focused on rebuilding after the disasters, it became an opportunity for Springfield to reinvent itself and was ultimately adopted as the citywide Master Plan in the spring of 2012.

Thanks in large part to active stakeholder engagement throughout the planning process, Develop Springfield was able to raise money from private donors to turn many aspects of the plan into a reality. One significant outcome of the plan is a program that provides grants to damaged businesses along the city’s Main Street. The grants helped many cherished restaurants and retailers make the repairs needed to reopen, including two local icons: Milano’s Deli and the Glory Shoes department store.

PVPC is now working with Develop Springfield to map the outcomes of the Rebuild Springfield plan using GIS. The maps will include information about specific projects and investments that are being made as the city recovers. The maps will be publicly accessible online, allowing stakeholders to track the rebuilding progress and plan for new projects that will strengthen rebuilding efforts.

Zoning Code Changes Help Monson Rebuild

One of many historic buildings in Monson that had irreparable damage from the tornado. Zoning changes allowed Monson to rebuild to similar specifications. Credit: Larry Smith
One of many historic buildings in Monson that had irreparable damage from the tornado. Zoning changes allowed Monson to rebuild to similar specifications. Credit: Larry Smith

June’s tornado also ripped through the village of Monson, causing $11.9 million in property damage and severely damaging many landmark buildings, including their historic town hall.11 With the help of the EDA grant, PVPC worked closely with Monson to navigate the rebuilding process. With a small staff and a volunteer planning board, Monson’s greatest need was assistance updating their outdated Master Plan and zoning code.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many towns across the United States adopted zoning ordinances to regulate development in their rapidly expanding suburbs and exurbs. Little attention was given to historic town centers; the zoning code was mostly concerned with the development of strip malls and suburban-style housing as cities sprawled into rural areas. In towns like Monson, most properties in the town center were developed before the zoning ordinance was established and were seldom redeveloped in the years since.

For Monson, this became a problem as they began to rebuild their town center after the tornado. The community wanted new development to retain its former historic character, but the existing zoning ordinance would not allow it. According to Larry Smith, senior planner with PVPC, “93% of properties in Monson town center did not conform to the existing zoning code.”12 The setbacks were too large, the parking requirements too high, and the density too low. Smith says, “We had to change the zoning to allow reconstruction and redevelopment to match the character of what we had prior to the tornado.”

After hosting a series of community workshops to gather local input, PVPC provided the planning board with 36 targeted recommendations to ensure that new development would be consistent with the community’s vision and preserve the town’s historic character. They worked closely with Monson to adopt more reasonable parking requirements, changes to promote mixed use development, and design guidelines for commercial development. Although PVPC continues to work with Monson to modify their density standards, the town was recently able to rebuild their historic town hall and police station in keeping with the original design thanks to the new zoning ordinances

Providing Support to Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses

In 2013, PVPC and Common Capital, as co-recipients, received a second EDA disaster recovery grant for $600,000 to assist local businesses that were still struggling to recover from the 2011 disasters. Common Capital, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) based in Holyoke, is managing a newly-created revolving loan fund (RLF) targeting small businesses in the areas affected by the tornado and Tropical Storm Irene. $500,000 of the grant was allocated to the RLF, which Common Capital matched with $125,000. The remaining $100,000 of the EDA grant, which PVPC matched with $35,000, was used to support technical assistance at the Springfield Business Growth Center, to analyze and evaluate existing disaster recovery systems as they affect businesses, and to assist Springfield with the previously mentioned GIS analysis of local recovery efforts.13

To date, Common Capital has made loans to five local businesses through the new RLF, infusing approximately $300,000 into the local economy.14 These businesses either sustained damage from the 2011 disasters or contribute to local economic development in the affected areas. In one example, Common Capital made a loan to a new restaurant named Carpaccio whose building sustained irreparable damage from the tornado as they prepared for their grand opening.

As a CDFI, Common Capital maintains a close relationship with their clients. They provide business assistance, including help with budgeting and other financial planning services. With Carpaccio, they worked closely to help them find a new location, secure several rounds of financing, and put together a viable budget for long-term success. Common Capital is currently working with several potential clients including a non-profit childcare service that needs to make repairs and building improvements to reopen a facility that was damaged by the tornado.

The Business Growth Center provides support for small- and medium-sized businesses throughout the region, including seminars and workshops on starting a new business, marketing, and planning for continued success. Credit: The Business Growth Center
The Business Growth Center provides support for small- and medium-sized businesses throughout the region, including seminars and workshops on starting a new business, marketing, and planning for continued success. Credit: The Business Growth Center

To provide additional support for local businesses, PVPC partnered with the Business Growth Center (BGC) to expand their services to businesses in the affected area. The Center received $32,600, including $18,900 to provide technical assistance to businesses in the disaster zones and $13,700 for marketing and outreach. The BGC matched these funds with $18,900 of in-kind services for businesses.15 Common Capital also works closely with the BGC to identify potential candidates for their revolving loan fund.

The BGC offers critical services and technical support to small- and medium-sized businesses throughout the region. In addition to providing office space for up to 30 business, the BGC interfaces with hundreds of businesses in the region through their seminars and workshops that are aimed at helping businesses grow. Their programs are designed for businesses at various stages of development and include topics such as the basics of starting a business, cash flow and business planning, marketing, and navigating the small business loan process. The center also provides one-on-one consultations, networking opportunities, and, for their tenants, access to conference rooms, a computer lab, and other office equipment.

The BGC currently houses 26 tenants, establishing a strong network of emerging entrepreneurs to encourage collaboration, sharing of best practices, and learning from the experience of others. As these businesses mature and establish themselves within the community, they will play a critical role in revitalizing and diversifying the local economy.

Integrating Local Businesses into Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

Looking forward, PVPC is addressing the need to better integrate local businesses into regional planning efforts. From their experience with the 2011 disasters, PVPC found that few resources are available to businesses to help them prepare for, and recover from, a disaster. Lori Tanner, economic development planner with PVPC says, “There are robust systems in place for public safety, shelter, food, utilities, and for essential functions like hospitals, but businesses, especially small businesses, are often not addressed.”16 Recognizing the need for improved assistance to businesses, PVPC is currently working with stakeholders to improve the overall preparedness of the business community.

To begin this process, PVPC conducted a series of outreach meetings with key business and emergency preparedness stakeholders, including the local area Chambers of Commerce, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council, and business advisors from neighboring counties. PVPC staff members are also doing a desk review of disaster recovery plans in their region and from similar regions throughout the country to identify new strategies for improving business preparedness, continuity, and recovery.

Through this work, PVPC aims to better understand how businesses receive information before, during, and after a disaster and identify the resources that are available to help them. The recommendations stemming from this research are intended to help businesses access the information they need for everything from the immediate clean-up to helping them through grant or loan processes. By working closely with communities, local and regional emergency preparedness entities, chambers of commerce, business associations, the emergency response community, and other business assistance organizations, PVPC seeks to build new communication networks that will result in a better defined disaster recovery system for their business community.

Jay Minkarah, President and CEO of Develop Springfield, said “the critical thing for the [post-disaster] planning process is to create a blueprint for how to respond to the [disaster’s] impact.”16 PVPC and its partners succeeded in doing this for Springfield, for Monson, and are now working towards a blueprint for their region’s entire business community. As the region continues to rebuild after a particularly devastating 2011, the programs that PVPC and its partners have designed and implemented are certain to help their region weather the next disaster.

This report was researched and written by freelance writer Kimberly Colopinto with guidance from NADO staff.

Click here to download this case study as a PDF.

Click here to return to the main page of the Lessons from the Storm: Case Studies on Economic Recovery and Resilience series.

1The term “regional development organization” refers to the multi-jurisdictional regional planning and development organizations that exist throughout the country and are known by various names in different states, including councils of government, regional councils, economic development districts, local development districts, and planning and development councils. These public-based entities play an invaluable role in fostering intergovernmental collaboration among federal, state, and local officials; deliver and manage federal and state programs; and work to solve area-wide issues and to address the fundamental building blocks required for competitive and sustainable communities and economies.

2Niles, Danielle  (2014) ”Eye On Weather: Tornadoes Have a History In Central Western Mass.” CBS Boston, March 29, 2014. Link:

3 2012 Community & Economic Development Report (CEDS) for Pioneer Valley Economic Development District

4 Ibid, 2012

5 Ibid, 2012

6 Tanner, Lori, Personal Interview, February 19, 2015.

7 The City of Springfield Community Development Block Grant– Disaster Recovery—Partial Action Plan A. August 2013. Link:

8 Ibid, 2013

9 Develop Springfield Plan:

10 Minkarah, Jay, Personal Interview, March 25, 2015.

11 Appleton, John. (2011) “Monson tornado debris cleanup expenses top $3.4 million” Mass Live. June 30, 2011. Link:

12 Smith, Larry, Personal Interview, March 10, 2015.

13 Tanner, Lori, Personal Interview, February 19, 2015.

14 Abbate, Michael, Personal Interview, March 10, 2015.

15 Tanner, Lori, Personal Interview, February 19, 2015.

16 Tanner, Lori, Personal Interview, February 19, 2015.

17 Minkarah, Jay, Personal Interview, March 25, 2015.


Contact Joe D'Antonio

Regional Development Researcher Andrew Coker joined the NADO team in March of 2023 after spending two and a half years as the Regional Economic Resiliency Coordinator at West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

At NADO, Andrew conducts research on the newest economic and community development best practices from Economic Development Districts across the country. He helps produce easily digestible information on complex regional issues through case studies, tip sheets, and research reports. Andrew also hosts training and professional development opportunities including conference sessions and virtual webinars for member regional development organizations.

Andrew is one of our Missouri-based team members and enjoys reading and training for his next triathlon.

Jack Morgan came to the NADO team in 2022 after seven years with the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a Program and Senior Program Manager. Prior to NACo, Jack was a Policy Analyst for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Jack holds a bachelor’s in geography from Emory & Henry College and a master’s in geography from Appalachian State University.

As a NADO Senior Program Manager, Jack leads capacity-building and peer-learning work supporting energy communities in economic transition, regional resilience, and recreation economies. He also helps with the EDA-Austin training program Emerging Leaders.

Jack is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is a member of the American Planning Association (APA) in the Regional & Intergovernmental Planning division. He also serves on the Emory & Henry College Alumni Board.

Taking road trips, reading non-fiction, and indulging in top-notch barbecue and coffee round out Jack’s days. He loves maps, mountains, and of course, all things sports.

Karron Grant joined the NADO team in 2023 as Administrative Specialist and is the first face (or voice) you’ll see or hear when reaching out to NADO. As Administrative Specialist, Karron manages our database and coordinates NADO event operations. He ensures members’ needs are met, contact information stays current, and NADO’s office is running efficiently.

Karron came to NADO after four years in the classroom teaching at The New Century School and Old Mill Middle North where he received the Patriot of the Year award. He attended Towson University and the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds a bachelor’s in international studies and humanities.

Visiting art galleries and museums, playing basketball and bowling, and taking in movies and music are some of Karron’s interests and hobbies.

Deputy Executive Director Laurie Thompson has been with NADO for 25 years. Laurie helps keep the NADO and NADO Research Foundation wheels turning through management of the daily operations of the Research Foundation, securing financial resources and overseeing grants management, and helping execute NADO’s Annual Training Conference each year.

Laurie holds a bachelor’s in public affairs and government from Mount Vernon College and a master’s in health services administration from The George Washington University. Prior to NADO, Laurie spent time as a Field Specialist and an Eagle Staff Fund Director at First Nations Development Institute.

When she’s taking a rare reprieve from her NADO work, Laurie enjoys traveling domestically and internationally to visit friends and family.

Jamie McCormick joined the NADO team as a Policy Fellow first in 2019, then moved into her current role as Legislative Associate in 2021. As Legislative Associate, Jamie keeps NADO members apprised of any policy and regulatory issues and communicates NADO’s policy priorities to federal stakeholders and partner organizations. She is also the first stop for members with inquiries on policy issues. The planning and execution of NADO & DDAA’s annual Washington Conference is also managed by Jamie.

Jamie holds a dual bachelor’s in political science and international relations from The State University of New York College at Geneseo and a master’s in international development studies from The George Washington University. In addition to her roles at NADO, Jamie also worked as a Legislative Assistant for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Outside of her NADO work, Jamie is an active volunteer with the VOLO Kids Foundation and a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. She is also NADO’s resident baker regularly providing treats for those in NADO’s D.C. office. Traveling, taking her pup on walks, and hiking in the northeast keep Jamie busy. 

Brett Schwartz began at NADO in 2012 as a Research Fellow after earning his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The following year, he was promoted to Program Manager and has now been leading as an Associate Director since 2018. Brett is responsible for managing NADO’s Economic Development District Community of Practice (EDD CoP), as well as researching and monitoring the latest trends in regional economic development and resilience, including best practices for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). With more than a decade of experience on the NADO team, Brett is a dynamic relationship builder helping connect and build capacity among the national network of regional development organizations.

Brett also holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a certificate in mediation training. He’s a member of Catalyst Grantmakers of San Diego and Imperial Counties and was a participant in the 2021-22 Field Trips to the Future Cohort.

Brett is one of NADO’s West Coast team members residing in San Diego, CA where he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts and festivals, and soaking up life as a parent of two young children.  

Communications Manager Katie Allison joined the team in 2023 to lead the strategic communication efforts of NADO. Katie creates and develops print and online materials, communicates NADO’s updates to members via weekly emails, and maintains content for and NADO’s social media channels. She also works with different departments to generate new ideas and strategies to effectively describe and promote the important work NADO is doing for EDDs and RDOs across the country.

An experienced nonprofit communications professional, Katie has worked for organizations in western North Carolina for nearly a decade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Wingate University where she was a four-year student athlete. Katie has also completed Vision Henderson County, a comprehensive leadership development program that promotes informed and committed civic volunteerism.

Katie stays busy trying to keep up with her two young sons whom she enjoys exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains with. Traveling to new and favorite places and cheering on the Atlanta Braves are some of her family’s favorite pastimes.

Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig has been a member of the NADO team since 2021, and helps with NADO’s EDD Community of Practice, EDD staff capacity building and other grants on a range of subjects, including equity and solar energy. Before NADO, Ciara worked as a Planner for the County of Santa Barbara and an Assistant Project Manager for REM Consult. Ciara holds a bachelor’s in urban studies and French from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in urban studies from Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris.

When she’s not traveling, you can find her outrigger paddling and serving on the board of the Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, CA, near her home base of Santa Barbara.

Carrie Kissel has been a member of the NADO team since 2005 when she began as a Research Fellow. She later moved into the roles of Program Manager in 2006, and then Associate Director in 2011. Carrie holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from Ball State University and a master’s in public anthropology from American University. As Associate Director, Carrie oversees NADO’s work in rural transportation and rural wealth creation. She provides technical assistance and support to rural regions on transportation and economic development issues and develops training and peer exchange events on transportation issues and rural wealth creation as an economic development strategy.

Carrie is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and secretary of TRB’s Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the American Anthropological Association and the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

Reading, gardening, hiking, and kayaking are a few of Carrie’s hobbies, and she organizes and facilitates a DEI/social justice-focused book club in her community.

Melissa Levy has worked at NADO as a Regional Development Researcher since February 2023 and is the Principal Consultant at her own firm specializing in wealth-based economic development consulting. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Melissa brings a breadth of knowledge to her role as a Regional Development Researcher. Melissa provides in-depth research, coaching, and training on regional economic resilience, rural wealth creation strategies, and economic development.

Melissa is a North American Food Systems Network trained AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) facilitator and a WealthWorks coach, facilitator, and trainer. In addition to her professional work, Melissa serves on the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, on the board of the Hinesburg Community Resource Center, and on the Hinesburg Economic Development Committee.

A true outdoorswoman, Melissa enjoys cross country and downhill skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as yoga, and teaching Tai Chi.

Program Manager Krishna Kunapareddy began her role with NADO in February of 2023 after 14 years of service at Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri. Krishna manages NADO Research Foundation’s Planning and Environmental Linkages and Center for Environmental Excellence projects. In addition to researching and writing, Krishna also conducts virtual workshops on innovative tools and techniques related to transportation planning.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Andhra University and a master’s from JNT University in India, as well as a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. Krishna is also a certified Smart Cities Academy Practitioner and holds the Location Advantage certificate from geographic information system software company ESRI.

In her spare time, Krishna volunteers with Mentors4College helping high schoolers better plan for their post-high school paths. She is also a dedicated advocate for documented H4 Dreamers.

Krystal DeLeon joined the NADO team in October of 2020 as Database & Grants Manger, but in January of 2022 transitioned to her current role as Operations Manager. Krystal keeps NADO running through behind the scenes work of invoicing, solving any database issues that may arise, producing membership reports, and much more. Her organizational skills and thorough knowledge help the NADO team operate more efficiently across all departments.

Prior to NADO, Krystal was the Conference Services Coordinator for State Services Organization. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a licensed realtor, and holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Liberty University. When she’s not keeping NADO’s operations in order, Krystal enjoys running and rock climbing, and adventuring with her husband and son.

Senior Program Manager Bret Allphin joined NADO in April of 2022 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge after a 20-year career with Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public affairs, Bret is licensed Geographical Information Systems Professional (GISP). He is NADO’s go-to team member for all things mapping while also supporting members with transportation and economic development technical assistance services.

An avid sports aficionado and former collegiate athlete, Bret enjoys cheering on his Cincinnati Reds, hitting the trails on his mountain bike, and improving his golf game whenever possible. Bret is an involved community member in Marietta dedicating much of his spare time to serving on local nonprofit boards.

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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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