DuPage allocates $1 million to promote hotels, other businesses
DuPage County will pursue a marketing campaign to boost its hospitality industry, despite some who question whether it's the best use of federal relief money.
The county board last week set aside $1 million to establish the COVID-19 Tourism Promotion and Business Attraction Relief Fund, which will be used to pay for advertising to spread the word about the reopening and safe operation of DuPage's tourism sites, hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
Money for the fund is coming from roughly $161 million the county received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. DuPage officials said CARES Act dollars can be used to support local businesses that have had their operations interrupted because of the pandemic.
Board member Tim Elliott, chairman of the county's economic development committee, said the hospitality industry is a huge part of DuPage's economy and employs a lot of people.
"It's probably the segment of the economy in DuPage County that was hit hardest by the pandemic," the Glen Ellyn Republican said.
To help those businesses, Choose DuPage will work with the DuPage County Convention & Visitors Bureau and the DuPage County Health Department to create the marketing campaign.
As part of the campaign, officials will promote the safety protocols in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and keep the county safe, including capacity limits, sanitizing, masks and social distancing. The campaign also will promote opportunities that exist for shopping, dining, entertainment and recreation in the county.
"We do need to get out there, market and let people understand that we are open," Elliott said. "We are open in a responsible and healthy manner."
While the $1 million for the fund was approved, six county board members voted against the allocation.
The board members who voted "no" are Mary FitzGerald Ozog, a Glen Ellyn Democrat; Julie Renehan, a Hinsdale Democrat; Jim Zay, a Carol Stream Republican; Elizabeth Chaplin, a Downers Grove Democrat; Dawn DeSart, an Aurora Democrat; and Naperville Republican Jim Healy.
Renehan argued the amount should have been reduced to $500,000 so the county would have more money for its Small Business Grant Relief Program, which provides forgivable loans of up to $15,000 to qualifying businesses and independent contractors.
"I understand the objective (of the marketing campaign)," Renehan said. "I question the effectiveness. To me, it just seems like a waste of money when we can be directly giving this to restaurants or directly giving this to small businesses."
Chaplin, who also wanted the funding amount cut in half, said there are other needs in the county, including testing, food assistance, rental assistance and mortgage assistance.
Zay questioned whether now is the right time to attract out-of-state visitors. "I think we can use that money much better in other ways for economic development," he said.
Still, several board members voiced strong support for the plan.
"A majority of our funding that runs this county comes from sales tax," said Brian Krajewski, a Downers Grove Republican. "So we need to let people know the businesses in this county are open."