MARSHALL – The COVID-19 pandemic has had a widespread effect on the regional economy, officials in the region said during a discussion with Senator Amy Klobuchar this week. While federal aid from the CARES Act has helped, southwest Minnesota still faces future uncertainties in business, agriculture, and even government funding.
Klobuchar held a conference call Wednesday with leaders in the region, including leaders of the Southwestern Regional Development Commission (SRSA), area mayors and township supervisors. Klobuchar said she wanted to know how COVID-19 was impacting the regional economy and how to help it.
“We all know that rural areas are not immune to this pandemic”, Klobuchar said. And in many cases, rural communities were already grappling with factors such as commodity prices and changes in the biofuel market before the coronavirus hit.
“The problem is how to get there?” she said. “We have to think about our needs and how we are meeting them.”
Leaders in the region have said that in the short term they are using federal funding from CARES, both to help cover expenses related to the pandemic and to provide financial assistance to businesses affected by COVID-19 closures. .
Jay Trusty, executive director of SRDC, said the commission has launched a revolving loan fund for COVID-19 relief. Deputy director Robin Weis said that so far SRDC has closed seven loans totaling more than $ 400,000 using revolving loan funds. Businesses helped by the revolving loan fund included a restaurant that was struggling to get financing and a trucking business, she said.
Slayton Mayor Myron Carney said the town has received more than $ 158,000 in CARES funding and used some of it to cover the costs of COVID-related expenses and equipment that will help keep local firefighters ready to work. He said Slayton’s EDA was also looking to offer assistance to businesses.
But while participants in the discussion said CARES money was a positive thing, there was still cause for concern as the pandemic continued.
The mayor of Pipestone, Myron Koets, said it was the “quality of life” businesses, such as service businesses and restaurants, that had been hit hardest in her community. “They’re still in a real pickle,” he said.
Koets and Trusty said the healthcare industry faces challenges as well – with fewer elective procedures performed and less revenue, healthcare providers may have to downsize. Long-term care facilities may also face problems, if lockdowns from COVID-19 change people’s minds about the decision to move to collective care, Koets said.
Trusty said one of SRDC’s big concerns was how to help businesses build resilience to deal with future disasters such as COVID-19. This could include helping more businesses in southwest Minnesota create an online presence to avoid losing business, he said, or supporting more smaller meat processing plants. , so disease outbreaks do not close supply chains.
Richard Peterson, a supervisor for Kimball Township in Jackson County, said poor broadband internet service was a constant concern for residents in his area. The agricultural economy would be another area of concern for the future.
“We have wonderful harvests ahead,” Peterson said. “But it’s the prices that hold it back.”