Business and government leaders in McLean County say they are encouraged Gov. JB Pritzker's plan to reopen Illinois will give them a chance to open the local economy safely, but maybe not as swiftly as some had hoped.
The McLean County Chamber of Commerce joined counterparts in Campaign and Peoria counties to lobby the governor to go for a regional approach.
McLean County Chamber of Commerce CEO Charlie Moore said some business owners thought that would mean opening much sooner.
“There’s certainly a mixed bag of responses that I’ve been hearing as it relates to what the region looks like, thinking more of a downstate versus going to the western side of the state,” Moore said.
The plan divides Illinois into four areas. McLean County is in the north-central region that includes coronavirus hotspots Rock Island and Rockford. Downstate infection rates are generally lower.
“The challenge for a lot of our small businesses especially, that now have to wait from the middle of March to almost June 1 to be able to reopen, is causing just incredible, incredible hardship and strain, and some of them are just challenged as to what their store will look like when they reopen, if they reopen on June 1," Moore said.
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said he favors the regional approach even if the pairing with areas that have higher infection rates isn't perfect.
“I’m not going to quibble with how you would divvy up the state,” Renner said. “No matter what you do unless you really carve us up into the 102 counties, you are going to have some situations like that.”
Patrick Hoban, president and CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, thinks McLean County's infection rates are good enough that it will help the region open sooner.
“Their cases will affect ours, but I think overall when compared to the entire state of Illinois where we would be averaged in with a major metro (area) like Chicago, I think it’s still a better approach,” Hoban said.
Koos called the regional approach a move in the right direction, but said he understands the frustration business owners feel waiting through the shutdown for at least several more weeks.
“That’s been a concern. It’s really hard on local businesses and they are trying as hard as they can to come up with ways to generate revenues for their businesses,” Koos said.
The entire state is in Phase 2 of the five-stage recovery. Phase 3, dubbed "Recovery," would allow manufacturing, offices, retail, barbershops and salons to open when infection rates, hospitalizations and intensive care needs stabilize. Illinois won’t fully restore under the plan until there’s a vaccine or "highly effective" treatment for the coronavirus.
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