Community leaders across Illinois are working hard to adapt to and overcome challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey conducted by University of Illinois Extension. Town, city, and county leaders across the state are concerned about the health of residents and economic impact on local businesses, employers, and local governments.
Survey responses were collected May 11-25, 2020, with 163 local elected officials, business owners, and organization leaders from 58 counties across the state.
Local governments, businesses, and organizations reported spending substantial time modifying operations in response to the pandemic to comply with public health guidelines. This includes event planning and rescheduling, shifting services online, modified procedures for social distancing, PPEs, and other measures to protect employees and the public. Other focus areas included business assistance activities, such as providing access to emergency loans and grant programs, community outreach and assistance to vulnerable populations, and emergency operations and health care support.
According to the survey, the biggest challenges local governments and businesses faced going forward included reduced revenues, disruptions of community life, and threats to health and safety, including mental health. At the time of the survey (May 11-25), economic and budget concerns outweighed worries about a virus resurgence 7 to 1.
Most local organizations reported receiving information and advice on COVID-19 response online, through webinars, websites, social media, and email. Although 55% of respondents reported receiving “about the right volume of information,” nearly 40% reported receiving “too much,” and only 5% “too little” information. Respondents split evenly on whether that information was helpful (51%), with 14% indicating information received was not helpful and 35% stating it was only partially helpful.
Information that was considered helpful included business-relevant information; local health data; concise, uniform, and research-based information; and information on safety. Information deemed less helpful was described as repetitive, contradictory, voluminous, or overly political.
Illinois Extension’s Community and Economic Development team conducted the survey, in part, to ensure Extension resources were meeting community needs. Examples of COVID-19 related Extension information include:
- University of Illinois Extension’s Resources for Responding to COVID-19: Organized topically with help for businesses, communities, families, and agricultural producers.
- University of Illinois Extension’s COVID-19 Resources for Businesses and Local Governments: Help for communities and businesses to identify strategies, resources, and data for addressing the COVID-19 crisis.
- University of Illinois Extension’s Building Entrepreneurial Communities Blog: Loan and Grant Programs for Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19: Information about the current grants and loans for small businesses.
- University of Illinois Extension’s Community & Economic Development Website: Links to Illinois Extension’s Community and Economic Development program offerings.
- University of Illinois Extension’s Local Government Education Program: List of upcoming local government education webinars and recordings of past webinars presented by experts on topics relevant to local governments.