Surviving to thriving in a post-pandemic economy

  • Joseph Cassidy

    Joseph Cassidy

  • Innovation DuPage members meet in person recently in the group's first in-person event since the pandemic began.

    Innovation DuPage members meet in person recently in the group's first in-person event since the pandemic began.

  • Innovation DuPage members meet at ko-ze Wine Room.

    Innovation DuPage members meet at ko-ze Wine Room.

  • Innovation DuPage members meet at ko-ze Wine Room.

    Innovation DuPage members meet at ko-ze Wine Room.

 
Updated 5/20/2021 2:46 PM

It is well over a year into the "COVID-19 Lockdown" and the good news is that fewer small businesses have closed than expected.

According to the Federal Reserve, in a normal year about 7.5 percent of all small businesses exit, whereas last year we saw about 8.5 percent end operations.

 

This is of little comfort if your small business was among the 200,000 extra businesses that closed due to COVID-19, however, many companies survived, and others are positioned to thrive.

Increasingly small businesses are turning to economic development partners to access the resources and best practices that lead to success. DuPage County for instance, issued over $20 million in Small Business Relief grants through Choose DuPage to some 1,600 local firms. College of DuPage's Business Development Center (BDC) delivered 186 webinars to over 1,000 business owners on topics such as Future Proofing Your Business, Accessing Payroll Protection Loans and Restaurant Revitalization. The BDC also served another 1,184 clients in over 9,000 one-on-one sessions, which grew small business outcomes by $67 million in contracts, capital, loans and exports in Fiscal Year 2020.

Innovation DuPage (ID) served over 126 companies through business incubation and its Owner-2-CEO business accelerator program. The latest business accelerator cohort is focused on the construction industry and supports small firms that are women, minority or veteran owned through generous grants from the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association and U.S. Bank. workNet DuPage responded to the highest level of unemployment in 30 years (14.7 percent) by delivering career counseling and training virtually, saving nearly 700 jobs while retraining another 521 individuals.

The combined annual wages of these two groups represents about $54 million. COD Business Solutions delivered dozens of trainings funded by workNet grants including Lean, Project Management, Truck Driving, Healthcare and Real Estate.

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According to Nicole Fallon, who reports on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, businesses can expect a number of ongoing changes, namely that consumers will expect stricter cleanliness standards, the use of masks will continue post vaccination, and travel and events will remain smaller than in the past. The reliance on technology will increase and virtual fitness and health care are here to stay.

This bodes well for companies that are successfully applying these new standards and adapting to provide virtual services and engagement. ID tech companies like Strategy Titan, GOtivation, Promedix, Hanford Tech and Datatelligent all grew during the past year.

This does not however mean only tech firms will prosper. While some 30 percent of ID member companies are in the IT field, others hail from apparel, construction, consumer goods, arts and entertainment, food and beverage, manufacturing, professional services, health care and retail trade. Over 96 percent of all ID member companies remained in business during the "COVID-19 Lockdown."

ID member ko-ze Wine Room opened during the global pandemic. ko-ze serves special production wines and small plates creating a wine experience similar to Napa or Sonoma. Owners Doug and Lacie Flannery worked with the ID team to create a marketing and engagement plan before opening their doors.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

They have since exceeded their goals while selling out on all events. ko-ze is proof that even during the most challenging times, traditional businesses can thrive with the right planning, products and services.

While the business landscape going forward has changed forever, my message remains the same: Don't go it alone. I encourage all small business owners to connect with your regional business support agencies.

In a recent survey of ID members, owners report a wide variety of services most beneficial based upon the makeup of their leadership teams, industry, maturation levels, etc. Clear trends emerged, including the vital importance of networking with other entrepreneurs as well as ID staff, over 40 industry and academic partners.

When small businesses prosper, they hire college graduates and local residents. These businesses provide the services and goods that the community needs. These small businesses give back to the communities they serve. The small businesses working with ID range from less than one year in business to over 10 years. They range in average sales from under $100 thousand to over $5 million, employing from one to 25 employees. Companies working with the BDC have up to 500 employees and produce up to tens of millions of dollars of annual income.

In the best of times, the businesses that thrive learn to leverage every resource available. This will be truer than ever in the post pandemic economy.

• Joseph Cassidy, MBA, is Assistant Vice President, Economic Development Dean, Continuing Education and Public Services at College of DuPage. Contact him at cassidyj1180@cod.edu.

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