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.
I’m excited that my inaugural blog post coincides with the launch of Lake County Partners’ new website. We began work on the site at the beginning of the year, with no real understanding of the many COVID-19 related changes to come over the course of a few short months. There’s no question that we’re in a different world now, and we’ve all had to quickly adapt to the circumstances and find new ways of doing business. Lake County has certainly risen to the occasion.
Through our partnerships at the state and local levels, relationships with our friends in real estate and finance, and close involvement in Lake County’s strong life sciences and advanced manufacturing businesses, we have seen the rollout of new programs, financing opportunities, and life-saving technology on a scale and at a speed never before seen. Side by side, we have steadily walked through phases while navigating new guidelines and preparing for what the future holds.
Since the onset of the epidemic, we have hosted countless webinars and municipal briefings, issued business alerts, coordinated grant programs, assembled recovery resources, connected stakeholders and pushed information out across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Our unique role as the connector between the public and private sectors is perhaps more important than ever before. We have seen firsthand the importance of having a one-stop shop for valuable information on doing business in Lake County, and we hope that this new website is exactly that. We invite you to explore it—if you’re an existing business, it’s a great place to rediscover Lake County and ignite your plans to grow. If you’re new to the area, you’ll quickly see why life is better here, inside and out of the office. Regardless of your needs, you’ve come to the right place, and we look forward to connecting and helping to drive your business forward.