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Surviving to Thriving in a Post Pandemic Economy

As businesses start to move forward from the disruption the pandemic has caused, they’re looking to higher education to provide the right resources that will help them succeed.

As we emerge from the “COVID-19 Lockdown,” the good news is that fewer small businesses have closed than expected. According to the Federal Reserve, only one percent or about 200,000 extra businesses closed due to Covid-19. 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 higher education to access the resources and best practices that lead to success. College of DuPage (COD) is just west of Chicago and works closely with other regional partners to support the small businesses that drive our economy. Our business incubator known as Innovation DuPage (ID) served over 126 companies through incubation and its business accelerator program. The latest accelerator cohort focused on the construction industry and supported small firms that are women, minority or veteran owned through generous grants from the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association and U.S. Bank. The local workforce board, workNet DuPage responded to the highest level of unemployment in 30 years by delivering career counseling virtually, saving nearly 700 jobs while retraining another 521 individuals. COD Business Solutions delivered dozens of trainings funded by WIOA grants while the SBDC served over 1,184 clients resulting in $67 million in contracts, loans and exports. The County issued $20 million in Small Business Relief grants administered to 1,600 firms.

According to Nicole Fallon, contributor to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, businesses can expect a number of ongoing changes, namely that consumers will expect stricter cleanliness standards, travel and events will remain smaller than in the past, the reliance on technology will increase and virtual fitness and healthcare 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 30 percent of ID member companies are IT based, others hail from apparel, consumer goods, arts and entertainment, food and beverage, manufacturing, professional services, healthcare and retail trade. ID member kō-zē Wine Room exceeded sales goals during the global pandemic, proving 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 economic development partners. At the same time, I encourage higher education leadership to increase their commitment to and service of regional small business.

When small businesses prosper, they hire college graduates and local residents. These businesses provide the services and goods that the community needs. They give back to the communities they serve. In the best of times, the businesses that thrive learn to leverage every available resource. This will be truer than ever in the post pandemic economy.

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