May 26, 2020

COVID-19 survey shows resiliency, risk of regional businesses

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — So far, most Southern Illinois small businesses are adapting and hanging tough despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges it has brought, but “if disruption were to continue at the current rate, 40.2 percent of business owners reported that they may be at risk of permanent closure within 1-5 months.” 

That’s one of the revelations of an online survey the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Research Park conducted recently that garnered more than 200 respondents. Now, the staff have studied the complete survey results and are creating programming and services specifically designed to help businesses at this difficult time as well as into the future.

Impact so far

Significant to the findings, 72 percent of those surveyed reported they had not laid off employees while 63 percent had not placed employees on furlough as a result of the impact from COVID-19. However, 67.9 percent reported their business revenues fell by 26 percent or more. Notably, among the respondents, those who have an online sales component reported an increase of nearly 27 percent in online sales.

Nevertheless, more than 70 percent said they need some type of gap funding to stay afloat through June 1. Most commonly, business owners have applied for gap finance assistance programs, particularly the Federal Paycheck Protection Program, which essentially can be a forgivable loan, and the Federal Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan, which has a possible grant component.

Others have sought assistance through local banks or agencies.

Hundreds of responses

While the national and statewide impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been no secret, the goal of this survey was to assess the impact on businesses in the Southern Illinois region, according to Deborah Barnett, SIU Research Park associate director. 

A total of 224 business owners from Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Perry and Williamson counties responded to the anonymous survey during the seven-day period it was posted. Some answered all of the questions while others responded to just some of the online questions between April 28 and May 4. Thus, the actual response numbers vary.

Several questions touched on the impact to business operations of the pandemic and stay-at-home directives enacted to combat the spread of the virus. The respondents were asked their feelings regarding various aspects of their businesses, what types of assistance could help them and what help they have sought or received.

The respondents

The highest number of responses came from Williamson County with 97 and Jackson County with 76; Perry County followed with 22 and the remainder came from Franklin, Jefferson or another county not listed.

Among the SIU survey respondents, 67 percent report they are locally owned with two-thirds in business for 10 years or longer. More than half own their business property and most employ 2 to 5 full-time and 2 to 5 part-time employees.

Other concerns

Business owners report a number of challenges and concerns as a result of the pandemic, including loss of revenue, changes and reduction in hours, concerns about protecting the health and well-being of employees, and the loss of business and customer traffic.

Universally, the respondents say they welcome more detailed information about financial assistance available to them.

There were some differences among respondents from the various counties. Some indicated penalty-free extensions for expenses would be a most helpful form of assistance while others preferred opportunities to talk with other business owners, social media technical training, information on marketing, or help with cash flow management.

The outcome

Lynn Andersen Lindberg, executive director of the SIU Research Park and Office of Innovation and Economic Development, explained that the survey wasn’t just about taking the pulse of local businesses. The goal was to find out what concerns and problems area business owners are facing and how SIU and its economic development team can help.

"The impact of this pandemic will be felt in Southern Illinois for years to come,” Lindberg said.      “Through our Research Park, Small Business Development Center, and other economic development resources, we will work with small businesses, regional stakeholders and local governments to not only adapt to the new business and economic circumstances but also to help them innovate and thrive in the future."

Companies wanting to learn more about the business services SIU offers can look online for the Illinois Small Business Development Center at SIU at or contact the center at 618/536-2424 or

Students assisted with research

Applied Research Consultants, a university organization comprised of graduate students and faculty in SIU’s psychology department, set up and analyzed the survey. Those involved in the project were, with hometowns:

  • Stephen Berry, psychology doctoral candidate, Mountain Home, Arkansas.
  • Christina Engelken, psychology doctoral candidate and project co-lead, Olathe, Kansas.
  • Erika Kline, psychology doctoral candidate and project lead, Hagerstown, Maryland.
  • Tanya Rajayah, psychology master’s student, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.
  • Doug Sneddon, psychology master’s student, Benton, Illinois.

The results will be sent to stakeholders and business owners and will also be posted on the SIU Research Park website and related sites.

SIU Chancellor John M. Dunn said the survey reflects the university’s commitment to serving the region and the state.

“The university stands ready to work with our representatives in Washington D.C., Governor JB Pritzker, the General Assembly, federal and state agencies and local community and business leaders to help businesses of all sizes successfully navigate through these unprecedented times for the betterment of our communities," Dunn said.