As we near the 1-year anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown, business continues to look a lot different than it once did. Through our work administering Lake County’s Small Business Development grant, we are all too familiar with the struggles of our small business community and know there is much more work to be done.
The accelerating rollout of multiple vaccines and loosening of quarantine regulations make us hopeful for a return to normalcy. So does the news that we are hearing from local business leaders. Two of Lake County’s key industries—life sciences and advanced manufacturing—are seeing a surge in growth. There is huge demand for packaging, PPE, testing and healthcare supplies; existing companies are expanding, and new businesses are relocating to Lake County to meet the need.
A continued tight labor market is driving wage increases and forcing businesses to explore new ways to attract, retain and upskill talent. As a result, we have seen an uptick in business engagement as companies reach out to take advantage of Workforce Ecosystem resources. We are hearing strong optimism for increased revenue and hiring this year. That hope is reflected in our project pipeline, which includes deals that could potentially result in more than 1.1 million sq. ft. of new and revamped space and 600+ jobs.
With speculative development soaring, a string of expansions at companies like Abbott, Visual Pak, Medline, Xttrium Labs, Luxor Furniture and Fischer Paper Products, new businesses such as Mighty Hook, AZ Polymers and LightMart putting down roots, significant investments in workforce development at the College of Lake County and Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, and big announcements primed for the coming months, we are confident that Lake County will emerge from the year-long disruption in a position of strength. We are doing our part to make it happen, and we are excited to see what the next few quarters bring.
Lake County businesses have faced many trials during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have risen to the challenge, developing innovative new ways to engage and safely serve their customers. Never have we seen such ingenuity, powered by technological advances and sheer creativity.
Restaurants have embraced contactless service, online ordering, delivery, and pickup options, outdoor seating, and budget-conscious family-style menus. Indoors, they have created more space between tables, reduced seating capacity and minimized shared surfaces. Sanitizing stations and touchless payment options are more available than ever.
Retail businesses have pivoted. Local distilleries are producing hand sanitizer. Signage companies are creating new products to help promote businesses. Boutiques are adding online inventory to bolster sales. Many businesses have created new drive-throughs, walk-up windows, and curbside options for customers to safely pick up goods from the comfort of their cars. Special senior hours now accommodate early visits to the grocery store, and some grocers monitor entrances to spread out foot traffic. Salons check their customers’ temperatures and have installed plexiglass barriers to further ensure safety. Shoe stores offer delivery and try-at-home options. Many car dealerships are offering phone service as well as test drives, delivery, and home drop-offs. In all cases, enhanced cleaning practices help keep our community safe.
Hotels have also implemented new sanitization procedures, with many “sealing” rooms after cleaning to ensure safety. We have seen hotels partner with cleaning product manufacturers and medical organizations, exploring electrostatic and UV light cleaning technologies. One resort is offering e-learning classrooms where children can be supervised while parents can relax. Our renowned entertainment venues have also adjusted to meet shifting consumer preferences. Outdoor and virtual concerts and events abound, and drive-in movies are no longer a thing of the past.
Medical offices have transformed operations as well, with new advance questionnaires, intake forms, temperature checks, enhanced cleaning practices, drive-through vaccine clinics and telehealth services for routine appointments. No matter the need or the season, Lake County residents will find the business community is open and ready to serve. Behind the scenes, partners in the Lake County Workforce Ecosystem—Lake County Partners, Lake County Workforce Development, the College of Lake County and others—are committed to working together to ensure businesses have the resources they need to safely operate and meet your needs.