Approaches to Coastal Resilience: No Community is an Economic Island

July 12, 2023 Jordan Boege, MPP

Approaches to Coastal Resilience: No Community is an Economic IslandEconomic resilience has been at the forefront of economic development planning for some time now, with greater emphasis on building economies that are not only successful in the near term but can also respond effectively to shocks and disruptions.

For coastal communities in the US, these shocks can include challenges related to the seasonality of part or all of their economy and impacts from climate change, in addition to broader economic downturns related to economic stressors nationally and worldwide.

Camoin Associates has worked recently with a number of coastal and island communities to help them develop resilient economies in the face of changing conditions and other stressors. The inspiration for this article came out of projects led by Camoin Associates Senior Vice President Jim Damicis for the towns of Stonington and North Haven, ME.

Threats to Coastal Resilience

Coastal economies face a number of economic challenges that threaten their resiliency, including:


Many coastal communities rely on seasonal tourism as a key driver of their economies, which requires a robust labor force for part of the year — typically summer — but is less active in the spring and fall “shoulder” seasons.

Many coastal businesses close completely during winter months, particularly in colder regions such as the northeast. This has significant impacts on these communities’ labor forces, with most workers preferring year-round employment. Retaining employees from year to year can become challenging for businesses, especially those that are not well-established.

Even communities whose economies are more tied to working waterfronts can experience challenges with seasonality where fishing, lobstering, and aquaculture production occur within a particular season.


As tourist destinations, coastal communities often have significant shares of their housing dedicated to short-term rentals and seasonal homes. These uses attract wealthier residents and investors, who are willing and able to pay a premium for housing that is used only for part of the year. This in turn drives up housing prices in these communities and makes it difficult for those with more modest incomes to find affordable housing in coastal areas, creating challenges for both seasonal and year-round workers.

Climate Change

Coastal communities are experiencing dramatic impacts from climate change, with higher sea levels, more frequent storms and flooding, warmer waters impacting marine life, and erosion all being growing threats.

These impacts can damage critical infrastructure, displace residents, reduce the numbers of available fish and shellfish, and impair the ability of residents of coastal communities to maintain their livelihoods and economic independence.

Additionally, coastal communities face challenges related to a changing regulatory landscape around the ocean and blue economy, i.e., the “redlisting” of lobster and federal regulations related to lobstering equipment. They also face economic headwinds from broader national and global economic trends, including an aging labor force, high infrastructure costs, corporate consolidation, and resistance to new development.

Approaches to Coastal Resilience

Given the significant challenges facing coastal communities, becoming more resilient is a key priority for economic developers, public officials, and coastal residents. As our Senior Vice President Dan Gundersen, FM, HLM, has written about previously, economic resilience requires melding strategic planning with collective action — no simple task!

Despite the challenges, there are a number of strategies coastal communities can pursue to become more resilient:

Begin With an Asset- and Values-Based Approach

Economic resilience is achieved when communities know their strengths, available infrastructure and assets, and what resources for economic prosperity are available to them within their boundaries.

Communities can become more resilient by understanding what their residents value and building shared trust and relationships around those values. The combination of networked groups and physical infrastructure allows communities to better weather shocks and disruptions together.

Work Toward Greater Economic Diversification

Economies with “all their eggs in one basket” in the form of only one or a few industries are more vulnerable to disruptions because the economic base of the community has fewer pillars to stand on. An economic base containing multiple industries and different types and sizes of businesses helps communities weather potential shocks and challenges that arise. Coastal communities are already experimenting with approaches to find the right balance between fishing, aquaculture, tourism, natural resource-based sectors, the service economy, and health care, for example.

Consider your community’s economic fit with the surrounding market environment: No community is an island, even island communities! Our world is more interconnected than ever before, and economic resilience can be enhanced by knowing how your community’s economy fits within the larger market of the regional, state, national, and global economy.

A community’s connections to the broader economy have implications for the kinds of disruptions that a community may face, and understanding where pressure points exist now or may arise in the future can help head off challenges before they become unmanageable or disastrous.

Encourage Entrepreneurship

A culture of entrepreneurship, where individuals feel supported in creating new businesses and opportunities, helps communities be resilient by bringing in new ideas and opportunities for ownership and community wealth through taxes and quality of life. Business creation and development through entrepreneurship takes time but can often be more deeply rooted and long-lasting than efforts to attract new businesses from elsewhere.

Take a Holistic View of Economic Development

It is important to view the economy, community, and environment as an interconnected system. Resilient economies are resilient systems, with multiple components working together in harmony to bring about shared prosperity in a community.

Schools, civic organizations, nonprofits, quality of life, and interconnectedness of residents are important factors to consider in addition to a lens focused on businesses, workforce, and infrastructure. And often community leaders and governments have a greater capacity to deal with these factors compared to their ability to influence markets, businesses, and other economic actors.

Is your community or organization looking for ways to strategize around economic development and resilience? Camoin Associates incorporates resilience work into our strategic planning and development processes in order to help communities build economic vitality and gain a competitive edge in an economic system that is more national and global than ever before. Learn more about Camoin Associates’ resiliency services and expertise.