Dunn Richmond

February 01, 2021

SIU’s Research Park is surveying businesses anew about pandemic impact to craft tailored response

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The Southern Illinois University Carbondale Research Park, in partnership with the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at SIU, invites area businesses to participate in an online survey, available Feb. 1-14. As they did previously, they will use the survey results to formulate short-term and long-term plans to assist the businesses’ specific needs.

Lynn Andersen Lindberg, executive director of the SIU Research Park, encourages all businesses in the five-county region to respond, saying that their input is vital for future planning.

“For a 15-minute time investment, business owners have the opportunity to share their experiences and contribute to the collective voice of businesses in the region,” Lindberg said. “We have all known business owners and employees who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and various forms of mitigation. However, there have been some companies that have pivoted their core businesses and entered new markets or provided new products or services successfully. These successes are also important to identify so we all can learn from their actions.”

Nine months later, it’s time to reassess

This survey is a follow-up to a COVID-19 business impact survey the research park conducted in May 2020, which elicited responses from more than 200 businesses of all types throughout the region. At that time, business owners revealed that while they were committed and their businesses were resilient, about 40% were at risk of permanent closure within one to five months.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we knew it was important to not only be aware of how businesses throughout the country were being affected but to understand the challenges that might be unique to businesses right here in Southern Illinois,” said Deborah Barnett, associate director of the SIU Research Park. “The May survey was an important tool to inform how our office and others throughout the region could provide the most needed, targeted services to support local businesses.”

SIU’s assistance with critical needs

Staff of the research park and Illinois SBDC at SIU created a variety programs and services to help businesses navigate the unprecedented times. Gap funding to help businesses stay afloat and assistance in establishing or improving their online sales presence were two of the most critical needs the earlier survey found, said Greg Bouhl, SIU director of entrepreneurship and business development.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) released additional financial support to aid SBA-funded SBDCs, including SIU’s, in expanding resources for small businesses disrupted by COVID-19. This funding allowed the Illinois SBDC at SIU to hire three new staff members. These staff have focused on helping businesses in the region with gap funding assistance, online sales and marketing, and general business advisement.

“This additional funding came at a critical time when so many of our local businesses have been struggling and needing support more than ever,” Bouhl said. “The data provided by the survey allowed us to focus our resources where local businesses needed the help most.”

Rising demand for services

SIU’s Illinois SBDC has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of businesses seeking assistance since the onset of the pandemic. During a typical year, staff work with approximately 350 business clients. In 2020, they helped nearly 700 clients.

In addition to providing individual business consultations, SBDC staff members have offered more than 80 virtual workshops and training sessions in response to the COVID-19 business disruption, drawing nearly 1,500 participants.

“Thanks to the additional resources provided by the SBA and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, we have been able to deliver the advisement and training services that our businesses in Southern Illinois needed,” Bouhl said.

Barnett said the second survey will help officials gauge the pandemic’s impact over the course of several months.

“None of us could have predicted the challenges that businesses would still be experiencing so many months later and how important this follow-up survey would be to understanding how we can continue to provide critical support,” Barnett said.

Five counties asked to participate

All companies in Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Perry and Williamson counties are invited to take the new survey. Local businesses, national company franchises, retailers, restaurants, industries, home-based businesses, utilities, mines, arts/entertainment/recreation companies, nonprofit organizations, independent contractors and all kinds of other enterprises are welcome.

The confidential survey should take no more than 15 minutes to complete, officials said. Participants will be asked to provide general background information, including the number of employees and how long the company has existed. In addition, they will be asked how the pandemic has affected them in terms of staffing, finances, marketing and operational changes as well as what resources they have sought and what help they are interested in, in particular how the SIU Research Park and SBDC staff can assist.

The survey is available on the SIU Research Park website at researchpark.siu.edu

All survey results are kept confidential and compiled in aggregate, officials said. Participating business owners have the option of getting a copy of the survey results and report as well as additional information about services available through the SIU Research Park and Illinois Small Business Development Center at SIU.

For more information, contact Bouhl at sbdc@siu.edu or 618-536-2424.