Highland businesses are recovering from the pandemic and starting to grow again, according to the first results of a survey to identify ways Highland can help its businesses thrive.
About 43 companies responded to a business retention survey coordinated by city leaders. It’s not immediately clear what percentage that might be, according to economic development director Mallord Hubbard, as Highland does not have a business licensing program to keep tabs on the number of businesses operating in Highland.
âOne of the reasons we decided to roll it out is that we don’t have a sure number on how many businesses we have,â Hubbard said. Although the initial response was strong, he said, they hope to continue to garner responses to get 80 to 100 companies participating.
As for surviving the pandemic, “it really depended on your business,” Hubbard said. Restaurants have been hit hard, while furniture and auto dealers have had “a terrific year.”
In addition, many businesses in the Highlands have been successful in obtaining state aid.
âWe’ve done our best to get this information out,â Hubbard said. “But we had no idea of ââour success until we got the reports from the state.”
These reports, released by the Illinois Department of Trade and Economic Opportunity, indicated that at least 50 Highland businesses had received federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program ranging from $ 20,000 for a family farm to $ 125,000. USD for a restaurant to 3.1 million USD for a construction company. Churches, plumbers, veterinary clinics and nursing homes have all received federal funding. About fifteen companies have also received state aid.
âOur companies have been able to access these funds and it has enabled many of our companies to survive,â said Hubbard. “We are grateful for this funding.”
The majority of business owners said in the survey that they don’t have much difficulty finding a quality workforce in the Highlands. The challenge, Hubbard said, is, particularly in manufacturing, for companies to find that they hire and train new employees as an investment in their workforce, but the employees are then poached by others. companies.
âIt’s really competitive there and definitely one of the things we’re focusing on,â Hubbard said.
Another perception among business owners is that Highland needs more sit-down, coffeeshop-style restaurants, and it’s overloaded with fast food. Hubbard said the city is aware of this perception and is trying to attract not only high-end restaurants but also their potential clientele.
âOne of the things we’ve been doing for the past few years is to focus on expanding residential homes and housing options,â Hubbard said.
When restaurants are looking for locations, that’s one of the things they are looking for, he said. Highland is already awaiting the opening of a Schlafly’s brewery on the square, which is scheduled to open this fall.
Need more office space
Highland also has a shortage of larger offices, according to the survey.
âYou can find offices for some companies that only require a smaller space for a few workers,â Hubbard said.
He said some businesses have told him they need more space to grow if they are to stay in Highland. But the technology infrastructure and internet support are strong, Hubbard said.
Business owners have cited distance to freeways as both a strength and a weakness of the Highland business community. For some businesses, not being too close to a freeway is helpful, while other opportunities could pass Highland due to the distance, Hubbard said.
Another statement that Highland has a growing low-income population might not be borne out by the facts, at least until census data is released, Hubbard said.
âIt might be more a matter of perception than what hard data might show,â he said.
Sense of community, support of the city
Overall, the biggest strengths cited by Highland business owners were a sense of community and the city’s support for local businesses. Hubbard said it was no surprise at City Hall.
âIt’s definitely a force to do business here,â he said. “I know it makes my job easier.”
These efforts include: A new facade improvement program recently approved by City Council, which provides up to $ 10,000 in funding to help existing businesses renovate their building exteriors.
Hubbard said they hope to collect more surveys from businesses in the Highlands and will contact individual businesses to see how they can help them.
âWe want to let our existing businesses know that we are here to support them,â he said.
Companies interested in participating should visit highlandil.gov or call Hubbard at 618-654-9891.