GALENA, Ill. — Although recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, local economic assistance efforts have yielded positive outcomes over the past year, according to northwest Illinois leaders.

Regional and state officials discussed a variety of recent economic initiatives at the sold-out Northwest Illinois Economic Development annual meeting this week at Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa.

The evening featured a keynote speech by Silvia Garcia, acting director of Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, who highlighted state initiatives to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic.

“Never before has economic development work been as important as it is right now,” she said.

Garcia emphasized one of her department’s current endeavors, the Back to Business grant program for small businesses that experienced losses in 2020 due to COVID-19. Businesses can apply for the grants until Oct. 13.

Garcia also noted the importance of tourism on the state’s economic success, adding that during 2020, the state saw its tourism receipts decline by 50%.

She said her department is prioritizing tourism through the Rebuild Illinois capital program. One piece of the program involves investing in downtown and Main Street areas statewide, including in northwest Illinois.

“This region is known for being a great tourism destination, and we’re really excited to explore and highlight that,” she said, later adding, “We really think that the northwest region is critical to the success of the state.”

Garcia’s speech was followed by a panel of regional economic leaders, who discussed topics from COVID-19 relief programs to workforce recruitment and retention and supply-chain management.

Connie Dell, human resource manager for Elkay Manufacturing in Savanna, said pandemic-related supply-chain issues have prompted her company to forge stronger regional partnerships to find new sources for products.

“We’ve been making a lot more connections with local partners in the Midwest region than we had before,” she said.

NWILED Executive Director Emily Legel opened the event by detailing the organization’s efforts to help businesses during the pandemic.

She also noted that since January, NWILED staff conducted 35 consultations to assist with business launches or expansions, fulfilling one of the organization’s three broad goals to be completed by September 2023.

Legel also discussed ongoing initiatives, including a county housing needs assessment, a local foods study and expansions of NWILED’s Spanish-language outreach.

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