Creator of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs weighs in on post-pandemic recovery for small towns

Creator of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs weighs in on post-pandemic recovery for small towns

ILLINOIS (IRN) — As the Illinois economy begins to slowly open back up, the creator of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs believes said businesses in small towns face unique challenges.

Dr. Norman Walzer, a senior research scholar in the Northern Illinois University Center for Governmental Studies, said many business owners in rural areas are older and did not plan to work much longer, even before the pandemic hit.

“Those people have just reached retirement age and the difficulty is there really often aren’t people in the community that want to take these businesses over,” Walzer said.

Walzer said restaurants, hospitality and the recreation industries were hard-hit sectors, so places with high concentrations in those industries could face a longer recovery period. Some of those purchases can’t be “stockpiled” so they will not recover as quick as other durable purchases, which can be postponed for a while.

Walzer said he agrees with plans to open the state up for business again. However, he said a second wave of COVID-19 would hit rural areas hard.

“The health care facilities in rural areas really are not as strong as in metro areas, and some of the hospitals, a significant number actually, are not doing that well financially,” Walzer said.

Hope remains for businesses in small towns, Walzer said, especially if they are able to secure financing or organize local investors and create a cooperative limited liability company or nonprofit organization. Another positive factor is the sense of community in small towns, he said.

“The people in the smaller communities, the older people, are really interested in being involved, so a lot of them are participating in managing the store and various activities,” he said. “It’s kind of a social capital kind of thing.”

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