MURPHYSBORO, Ill. (AP) — Though beset with a laundry list of COVID-19 problems, Murphysboro has managed to stay true to its chosen course.

Mayor Will Stephens said that’s been the key to the city’s weathering the unprecedented storm of a global pandemic.

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 is undeniable — unemployment lines grew to historic levels and businesses found themselves closing their doors, some after decades in business. But Stephens said the key to the city’s success was about being steady.

“I think the No. 1 lesson that I’ve learned is that you just have to stay on task even if the way that you go about doing work (has changed),” Stephens said.

Scott Evans, a certified public accountant and Murphysboro’s city budget officer, said Murphysboro had a “banner year” for sales tax last year, despite the shutdown many businesses faced. Evans and Stephens attributed some of this to the COVID-19 stimulus money delivered to households.

Stephens said some came to him asking what they should do with their stimulus check — they were doing well enough financially that the money wasn’t a life saver. He said many found ways of stimulating the economy by taking on bigger projects at home. He also added that travel restrictions forced many to stay home and spend their money locally.

But, beyond a noticeable bump in sales tax revenue, there are other indicators of good economic health in Murphysboro. Stephens was happy talking about the number of businesses that have chosen Murphysboro as home, or their new homes.

Carbondale’s Campus Comics announced April 1 that it would be located in Murphysboro and with the address change came the name change to Muddy Monster Comics and Collectables.

Stephens said there’s only so much a city can do to be business-friendly. The rest comes from landlords and other local businesses. He said property owners along Walnut Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, have made relocating a business easy by renovating their spaces.

Jamie Green is the president of Murphysboro Main Street and owns six commercial storefronts across from the Liberty Theater in Murphysboro. She said in the last year a candy shop, Infinity Realty and a yoga studio have all committed to opening in her stretch of Walnut.

She’s not alone. Other landlords on that street have seen similar success, Green said.

Green said MMS has done its best to keep downtown looking nice, even when places weren’t open. Sometimes this is all you can do, he said.

Green said the main goal of the organization has been to “keep the morale up,” among local businesses.

The hospitality industry is one that was hit especially hard during the pandemic. According to a Reuters article Jan. 8, employment in the industry in December was down 23% from pre-pandemic levels in February, more than any other industry.

This would have been enough for developers like Joe Koppeis to cut their losses on big hospitality industry projects. But he decided to stay with his multi-year Holiday Inn Express project in Murphysboro. Stephens gave Koppeis a lot of credit here.

“That developer had the opportunity to pull out of that project and he decided to go forward anyway,” he said. “He felt like it was a place where he wanted to make an investment.”

Koppeis said the town and its people are good and he still believes in the success his newest endeavor will enjoy after the COVID-19 dust settles.

While certainly seeing the industry shrivel under COVID-19 restrictions was unprecedented Koppeis said there are still lessons to be learned.

“I think customer service has become more and more and more important,” he said. Customer loyalty is earned not bought, he said.

“If you are good to your customers your customers will be good to you,” Koppeis said.

Murphysboro has seen significant progress in expanding its local business community. Stephens said there wasn’t much of a secret to it.

“The secret to economic development is really just consistent hard work,” Stephens said. “I think that’s why we’re doing well.”

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/3eF7DZ4