Economic First Responders

This article was originally published on The Daily Herald Business Ledger on May 13, 2020 titled “Working Together to Keep Business as Usual.”

During these critical times, a network of Economic First Responders is needed more than ever before. Joseph Cassidy, Assistant Vice President of Economic Development and Dean of Continuing Education and Public Services at College of DuPage shares the work of economic development agencies and the resources that are available for the small business community.

Key Takeaways

  • Economic development agencies are adjusting swiftly to changing demands by transitioning their resources and programs online
  • Local organizations such as Choose DuPage, workNet DuPage and College of DuPage Business Development Center are contributing business support services
  • Supporting small businesses and uniting as a community will help move us forward
  • Working Together to Keep Business as Usual: Dean Cassidy

    The Great Lockdown in response to the coronavirus will likely lead to a recession that is more severe than that of 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund. While a highly educated workforce, a diversified set of industry clusters and strong municipal and county leadership have mitigated impact, it is clear that we are all going to have to work together to support the small businesses that will drive economic recovery.

    Collaboration between regional workforce boards like workNet DuPage, economic development agencies like Choose DuPage and College of DuPage’s Business Development Center (BDC) is critical. These entities are working with regional chambers of commerce, the business incubator/accelerator known as Innovation DuPage (ID) and a number of colleges and universities to continue the necessary support of the small businesses that are impacted most during these uncertain times. COD’s BDC houses the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) as well as the Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Center and the Illinois International Trade Center.

    The BDC Center staff is working around the clock to help companies apply for payroll protection, business loans and to develop contingency plans while seeking to expand revenue streams. In fact, the BDC offered over 42 webinars, served hundreds of clients with over 500 hours of free consultation since mid-March.

    Undoubtedly, the closure of society followed by a gradual reopening to prevent the spread of the coronavirus will have dramatic and negative consequences on both large and small businesses.

    We encourage everyone to support the small businesses that make the region unique. At the same time, we see opportunity as new business ideas, products and modes of delivery are created in response to the closures and continuing public health safety precautions. Innovation DuPage reports higher than normal client volume as startups consider new business opportunities and young companies look for guidance in navigating these unprecedented times.

    While these economic development partners miss the face-to-face connection with clients and members, each has moved services and resources online to support business continuity.

    We see opportunity as new business ideas, products and modes of delivery are created in response to the closure

    The DuPage Convention and Visitors Bureau is offering virtual tours of area attractions to help residents and businesses connect even while social distancing keeps us apart.

    Choose DuPage, and workNet DuPage, along with chambers of commerce, the BDC and ID are also conducting webinars, Zoom meetings and virtual meetups to continue learning and connection across our regional business ecosystem.

    For instance, the COD BDC and the Naperville Chamber of Commerce offered “Small Business Current Financial Disaster Relief” as a webinar, and Innovation DuPage sponsored Concordia University’s “Cougar Tank” virtual student pitch contest.

    ID, COD Business Solutions and the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association are collaborating on two new programs to further diversify the talent pool for both new and mature construction companies.

    COD Adult Education, the BDC and ID are collaborating on an entrepreneurship course for English language learners. The partners and clients have been extremely flexible, as all of these efforts were moved online and are continuing quite successfully. This agility and willingness to collaborate are critical to recovery.

    Almost overnight, schools moved thousands of courses from on ground to online. The challenges to staff and faculty alike are immense, but these efforts, when assessed and refined, will ultimately promote increased efficiency and improve pedagogy.

    College of DuPage is gearing up to serve not only the students who were planning on attending this fall, but also those who may be hesitant to go away to school at this time.

    I’ve witnessed an aligning of leaders and philosophies over the past several years in support of regional cooperation in the area of economic development — I think this needs to continue into the future, with large and small companies, municipalities, colleges and universities continuing the shift to a ‘coopetition’ model which benefits the whole as well as the individual organization. As we seek out the new normal while working in this quickly shifting environment, we need to stay alert for new opportunities. Through heightened collaboration and synergy, we will move from surviving to thriving in the months to come.

    Thank you to Dean Cassidy for featuring ID in the many entities that are ready to serve the community. Together we are boundless.

    Connect with Dean Joe Cassidy on Linkedin.

    Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.

    The Power of We

    Key Takeaways

  • Economic development agencies are continuing to take actionable steps to help local businesses by providing resources and assistance
  • ID and our partners strive to support diverse communities and their businesses with employment and financial opportunities for POC
  • All entities are committed to serving the entrepreneurial community and coming together, boundless by the Power of We
  • Connect to entrepreneurial support services starting with a 1-on-1 consultation.

    The success or failure of a small business often depends on the individual at the helm of the venture. However, a natural problem arises when these entrepreneurs are exposed to new business responsibilities outside of their experience portfolio. Strategic planning, managing finances, utilizing digital marketing channels and establishing proper sales processes are only a few of the obstacles that business owners face. All these disparate areas challenge the entrepreneur’s individual ability to succeed. These difficulties are only amplified by the public health crisis that we are currently facing.

    Fortunately, operating your own business does not have to mean going it alone. There are regional organizations that collaborate to provide you and your business with the support services you need. This critical network of Business First Responders was recently highlighted in the Business Ledger’s article, “Working Together to Keep Business as Usual”.

    Pre-Downturn Collaboration

    It didn’t take COVID-19 to usher in the level of collaboration that we are experiencing during this downturn- the seeds for these channels were planted well before that. Innovation DuPage was created to act as the connective tissue of our region’s entrepreneurial support services. In its first year in business, ID focused on connecting founders to regional resources. This gives entrepreneurs the ability to scale at a faster pace without the steep price tag.

    Gray Matters Games (GMG), a board game company and inaugural ID member, is the perfect example of what these partnerships are able to accomplish. They worked with students in a marketing and strategy class at Elmhurst College on a launch plan for their game “Office Decathlon.” Through this relationship, GMG also hired a marketing intern from the College. At the College of DuPage (COD), GMG collaborated with a team of students from the graphic design program and brought their latest game “Alphabet Race” from concept to testing stage. Once again, this connection led the company to a new hire – a brilliant design contractor that’s been helping them on a number of projects. But that’s not all. Through ID, GMG linked up with the Executive MBA program at Northern Illinois University to create an international marketing plan. This will give GMG an opportunity to diversify their offerings and expand their retail footprint.

    When the world seemed to turn upside down, the interlocked relationships have helped to keep companies afloat. Regional economic development organizations came together to offer business owners a ‘breath of fresh air’ while the concept of a ‘new normal’ became inescapable.

    Operating in a Time of Dramatic Change

    “Collaboration between regional workforce boards like workNet DuPage, economic development agencies like Choose DuPage and College of DuPage’s Business Development Center (BDC) is critical. These entities are working with regional chambers of commerce, the business incubator Innovation DuPage (ID) and a number of colleges and universities to continue the necessary support of the small businesses that are impacted most during these uncertain times.”

    As the COVID-19 crisis enveloped the country, the COD Business Development Center was the first on the front lines to assist businesses in our community. The rush for financial relief was focused on “[helping] companies apply for payroll protection, business loans and develop contingency plans”. Since mid-March, they have assisted hundreds of clients and have run 29 webinars. They are a lifeline of support at a time when assistance is needed more than ever before.

    Choose DuPage similarly took up the call to action. When the federal government’s dollars allocated toward the Payment Protection Program (PPP) and the Emergency Disaster Injury Loans (EDIL) dried up, small business owners had few places to turn to. Choose DuPage and DuPage County’s response was to launch the Small Business Relief Program. County businesses were given an opportunity to apply for grants that assisted with employee retention payroll, utilities and rent. Meant for businesses with less than 15 employees, the $1.5 million dollars allocated toward the program gave small business owners yet another opportunity to stay afloat.

    The County’s workforce development agency, workNet DuPage, was at the forefront as well. They provided employers with training assistance to retrain their internal talent pool, assisted with recruitment support efforts and offered a number of resources to assist business owners. They performed all of these functions all whilst helping job seekers connect with funding for job training and aiding laid-off workers in applying for unemployment insurance.

    The list of support services goes on and on. What is most important is not the individual work that these organizations have carried out, it is the collective effort behind them. Though none of these organizations can fully mitigate the impact of this global pandemic, together they are able to minimize the long-term repercussions.

    Inclusion of Diverse Communities

    Our responsibility to support small business owners from minority communities is critical. They are suffering from this public health and economic crisis disproportionately. Resources and programs to help bolster their businesses will help to increase employment and financial opportunities for POC communities.

    The COD Continuing Education department, BDC and ID are collaborating on English Learning Acquisition Integrated Career and Academic Preparation System (ELA ICAPS) business classes. Program participants are first-generation immigrants who either have established businesses or are aspiring entrepreneurs. The course covers vital business topics including leadership, strategic planning, finance and sales. Simultaneously, participants are receiving incubation services from Innovation DuPage that includes 24/7 access to our coworking space (under ‘normal’ circumstances), mentorship and webinars/workshops. Though this program was originally slated to take place in-person, the necessary adjustments were made to continue delivery of high-quality instruction online.

    The Construction Industry Owner-to-CEO program is a collaborative effort put forth by the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA) and ID. This offering is geared towards assisting POC, female and veteran-owned construction businesses. Subject areas include: contract bid process, project management, insurance & bonding and finance. Like so many others during this pandemic, the construction industry has been hit hard. Paving a path toward recovery will not be easy for any of these businesses. It will require an increased understanding of their industry, connections to new opportunities and support from peers and mentors. These are the very tenets of the Owner-to-CEO program.

    An Eye Toward the Future

    Though social distancing keeps us physically further apart, regional economic development agencies and partners are coming closer together than ever before. Together, we are dedicated to serving the entrepreneurial community. We will continue our work to bring you the high-quality programs you need. No matter what new challenges arise, we will be here to help guide you through.

    The small business community is made up of our neighbors, friends and family members. When the community comes together with a resolve to adapt and innovate, the Power of We is boundless.

    Connect with Us

    Innovation DuPage can help transform your idea into a viable commercial venture. Connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or call 630-942-3340 to explore your next steps. If you are interested in connecting with entrepreneurs like you, check out our public events.