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Supporting local businesses during COVID-19

photo of downtown

Rural community and economic development professionals are working furiously to share the latest information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. This information includes closings, new regulations, government orders, and information about resources for businesses. Local offices rely on various levels of government to provide this information.

Locally, community and economic development directors and administrators can support businesses that remain open because they are classified as “Essential Services,” as defined in Governor Pritzker’s General Order EO-2020-10. One helpful strategy is to develop and share a list of local businesses, their statuses during restrictive orders, the services that they are providing, how to access those services, and hours of operation.

A great example of this support comes from Mercer County, Illinois (approximately 16,000 residents). Kyle McEwen, executive director of the countywide economic development organization, Mercer County Better Together (MCBT), produced At a Glance: Mercer County Businesses during COVID-19. This simple document includes the business name, address, phone number, and the current status of the business. It is distributed widely through MCBT’s email network and on social media.

This is a simple and very helpful way for local development professionals to do something positive for business owners and community members. If any business is not included in the first posting, business owners can share information and update the list as time goes on. At a time like this, such a document and this strategy is a great marketing tool for local businesses trying to reach their hunkered down clientele.

This service identifies MCBT as an organization working to support local businesses and providing timely information to county residents. The long term effects of regulations to address the current pandemic are not clear, but we can anticipate that organizations focused on community and economic development in our small towns and counties will struggle with reduced funding. Finding strategies to provide needed information, information that is not being provided or collected elsewhere, will be important for the survival of our rural economic development providers.

Source: Russell Medley, U of I Extension Community Economic Development Educator