MARSHALL — The COVID-19 pandemic has had a widespread effect on the regional economy, area officials said in a discussion with Sen. Amy Klobuchar this week. While federal aid money from the CARES Act has helped, southwest Minnesota is still facing future uncertainties in business, agriculture and even government funding.
“We all know rural areas are not immune from this pandemic,” Klobuchar said. And in many cases, rural communities were already struggling with factors like commodities prices and changes in the biofuels market before the coronavirus hit.
“The issue is, how do we get through it?” she said. “We’ve got to think of what our needs are and how we meet them.”
Area leaders said in the short term, they’ve been making use of federal CARES funding, both to help cover expenses related to the pandemic, and to offer financial assistance to businesses affected by COVID-19 shutdowns.
Slayton Mayor Myron Carney said the city had received over $158,000 in CARES funding, and used part for covering the costs of COVID-related expenses, and equipment that will help keep local firefighters ready for duty. He said the Slayton EDA was also looking at offering assistance for businesses.
But while participants in the discussion said the CARES money was a positive thing, there was still plenty to be concerned about as the pandemic goes on.
Pipestone Mayor Myron Koets said it was the “quality of life” businesses, like service businesses and restaurants, that had been hit hardest in his community. “They’re in a real pickle yet,” he said.
Koets and Trusty said the health care industry is also facing problems — with fewer elective procedures being done and less income coming in, health care providers may need to cut staff. Long-term care facilities may also face problems, if the COVID-19 lockdowns change people’s minds about deciding to move into congregate care, Koets said.
Trusty said one big concern for the SRDC was how to help businesses build resiliency to weather any future disasters like COVID-19. That could include helping more southwest Minnesota businesses build an online presence to avoid losing business, he said, or supporting more smaller meat processing plants, so disease outbreaks don’t close down supply chains.
Richard Peterson, a Kimball Township supervisor in Jackson County, said poor broadband internet service was an ongoing concern for residents in his area. The farm economy would be another area of concern looking ahead.
“We’ve got wonderful crops coming,” Peterson said. “But it’s the prices that are holding it back.”