Most people in the Dayton region will remember where they were on the night of Memorial Day, 2019. For many, those late-night storms will serve as a marker, separating life before and life after that evening. The storms changed homes, businesses, and entire lives in a matter of hours.
More than 15 tornados ripped through the heart of our community, displacing people and impacting more than 3,000 homes and businesses. The strongest storm was a half-mile wide, covered 20 miles and brought winds up to 170 miles per hour.
Our area quickly moved from talk of “the disaster” to “the recovery.” Dayton is a community built on helping each other. The Dayton area’s response to the tornadoes was humbling to many and surprising to none. Red Cross had five shelters in place by 3 a.m., and utility companies were out in force, joined by private citizens with chainsaws working to clear roads and get access to homes. Local churches mobilized to collect bottled water and other goods for families who had lost everything. First responders worked tirelessly to make sure people were safe.
Local jurisdictions focused on safety first, and local economic development officials reached out to businesses to help. Some businesses were damaged by the storms, and many more lost power and water, forcing them to close for multiple days. Montgomery County officials worked with communities to collect impact data and statistics for FEMA assistance. That collaboration resulted in the Small Business Administration setting up two Disaster Recovery Centers within two days of the federal emergency declaration, bringing much-needed assistance to the uninsured and under-insured.
This spirit of working together and helping one another is the center of an economic development organization in the region. For almost 20 years, 32 jurisdictions in five counties have worked together to retain businesses and attract new ones. This group, BusinessFirst! for a Greater Dayton Region searched for ways to help the communities. Volunteering to clean up neighborhoods and distribute supplies were great opportunities, but the members wanted to find a way to help businesses get back on their feet. Groups like Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley and Montgomery County’s Environmental Services, Job and Family Services, Community and Economic Development, and Business Services departments stepped up so residents could access much-needed services and start to find new jobs if their employer had to close because of storm damage.
Regardless of where a business is located, its impact is felt on the entire region. That’s the idea behind the BusinessFirst! organization. A tornado-damaged Dayton business has employees coming from Kettering and suppliers from Englewood. A West Carrollton business’ best customer might have been destroyed in Harrison Township. It was important to have conversations with businesses to ensure continued support and resources during the recovery phase.
Disaster Recovery Walks are being planned for the affected communities. These walks allow BusinessFirst! to not only assess the impact of the tornadoes on businesses, but to connect face-to-face and make sure each business has the resources needed to recover. Two walks have already been held in Vandalia and Trotwood. Volunteer teams met with over 150 companies. Future walks are being scheduled for other communities.
Much of the area still needs rebuilding, and the recovery process will last some time. Homes and apartments will need reconstruction. Businesses will need to re-establish supply chains. And long-term assistance will be needed for displaced residents. But Those recovery conversations have already started, bringing together many organizations to find solutions that will make our community even better than it was at the cookouts and parades early on May 28, 2019.