Loss in employment during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blight across the Nation and in Kentucky. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2020 marked the highest unemployment rate during the pandemic for the nation and Kentucky, reaching 14.8% and 16.9%, respectively. As months went by and businesses opened again, the need to understand the occupations most affected by the pandemic emerged. This blog post begins by exploring the one-year change in employment in Kentucky between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2020 (September 2019 – September 2020). Next, employment change by occupation by county is presented for the same timeframe. Finally, a look at job loss by occupation from 3Q 2019-2020, compared to fourth quarter 2020 job advertisements reveals which sectors are rebounding and which are lagging in recovery.
A look at changes in employment across all occupations between 3Q 2019-2020 by county in Kentucky illustrates that most counties recorded a loss in employment (Figure 1). Only eight counties had an increase in total occupation employment in this one-year time frame. Overall, the total percent change loss in employment by occupation statewide 3Q 2019-2020 was -4.0%.
Table 1 below indicates which occupations have been affected the most by a loss in employment throughout Kentucky. The five occupations experiencing the largest declines (by percent change) were Food Service (-9.4%), Personal Services (-8.9%), Building Maintenance (-6.3%), Production (-6.0%), and Arts & Entertainment (-5.2%). Between 3Q 2019-2020, Kentucky lost 82,284 jobs by occupation.
Employment Loss Varies Across the State
Each county in Kentucky is experiencing employment loss differently than the state as a whole. In Figures 2 and 3 each occupation is tallied by how many Kentucky Counties rank it first in loss based on percent change and employment numbers, respectively. Measuring by percent change 3Q 2019-2020, Production ranked first for 24 counties. In other words, Production occupations experienced the highest percentage change in employment decline in one-fifth of the counties in the state (Figure 2). Food Services had the largest negative percent change for 16 counties, 14 counties lost the greatest percentage of employment in Construction, and Architecture and Engineering had the greatest percentage loss in 12 counties.
Production was the occupation with the largest percentage drop in employment for one fifth (24) of Kentucky Counties.
By the same methodology as above, one-third of Kentucky counties (39) lost more employment in Production occupations than any other occupation (Figure 3). This was followed by Food Services for 21 counties and Construction for 17 counties.
Production was the occupation with the largest job losses for nearly one third (39) of Kentucky Counties.
Job Postings 4Q 2020 Show Some Rebound for Hardest Hit Occupations
A closer look at job postings for 4Q 2020 reveals the five most advertised jobs in Kentucky were for Transportation, Sales, Healthcare Practitioners, Food Service, and Administrative Support occupations (Figure 4). The current pandemic, the strain on the healthcare system, and vaccine rollout are likely some of the reasons for the volume of Healthcare Practitioners job postings. Three occupations (Sales, Food Service, and Administrative Support) were both in top five with most employment lost 3Q 2019-2020, as well as the most advertised 4Q 2020 job postings, indicating some rebound and providing a positive future outlook. Some of these occupations are influenced by seasonality and the increase in demand can be linked to increased holiday activity, not just rebounding during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on most occupation groups in Kentucky. Between 3Q 2019-2020 the state lost approximately 82,000 jobs (-4.0%). Though not all job postings result in new hires and not all demand can be attributed to rebounding from loss in employment due to COVID-19, Kentucky ended 2020 with an unemployment rate of 5.6%, which represents solid improvement from the 16.9% in April 2020.
Our state is collecting data to better understand broadband speeds in communities through the Kentucky Broadband Initiative. The Kentucky Broadband Initiative is a network of public and private partners working to expand internet access and build a stronger digital infrastructure in urban and rural communities across the commonwealth. The better the participation in the data collection happening now, the more data will be available to understand broadband access statewide and get services to communities that need it.
Why is the Kentucky Broadband Initiative collecting speed test data? There are limitations to the current data collected. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) collects data on broadband access and this data is what many states use to understand a community’s access to broadband. However, the data may not accurately depict the experience of all households and businesses. Why? The FCC counts a census tract as “served” if one business or residence has access to the targeted broadband services.
Still not convinced?Consider Georgia’s efforts to better understand broadband access in their state. The Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative (GBDI) launched an internet speed test to “equip school leaders with the clearest picture possible of internet connectivity for Georgia’s students and teachers.”
Take a look at the comparison maps of Georgia’s FCC data and the GBDI data here. By swiping the bar across the maps, it is apparent that the map with data collected by the statewide initiative in Georgia shows less access to broadband than the map with FCC data. This is due in part to how the data is represented on the maps.
The GBDI model is inherently location based. This means that the target broadband service must be available to more than 80% of locations [that provided speed test data] in a census block to be served. Census blocks that did not meet this definition are delineated as “unserved.” The map depicts access to broadband, not subscription to broadband.
Comparing the two data sources, the data from GBDI’s internet speed test offers a more robust picture of Georgian’s access to broadband. Let’s support the internet speed test efforts of the Kentucky Broadband Initiative so that resources can be targeted to the areas of greatest need.
You can help today! Please share the #speedtestKY information with your community today through your social media channels. Kentuckians only have until February 18th to take the speed test. Several pre-written social media scripts, along with the press release and the link to the speed test are provided here: https://educationcabinet.ky.gov/Initiatives/Pages/KBI.aspx
By Dan Kahl, CEDIK Associate Director and Associate Professor, Department of Community & Leadership Development
Finding that perfect leader
There is a long-standing argument in leadership. Supporters of trait-based theories of leadership argue that leaders are gifted individuals that “just have that special something” from birth. Others argue that leadership can be learned.
Is your community waiting for a superhero?
“Send me a hero” is a popular theme for songs and Marvel movies that represents the premise of trait-based leadership theories. The underlying idea is that we ordinary people cannot fix problems for ourselves and need someone with special talents to come along and fix issues for us. If a community adopts that mythology, they may be left waiting a long time for the perfect gifted leader to be born or show up to rescue them.
I teach a course at the University of Kentucky called Leading in Community. One assignment of the course is to have students interview people in leadership positions. Invariably, through the interviews, the students learn that every interviewed leader has a struggle with some aspect of leadership. There is no such thing as a perfect leader. The most conscientious leaders acknowledge it is difficult to impossible to please all the people all of the time. They acknowledge that leadership is a continuous challenge of listening, aligning interests, and consensus building among people with differing needs and perspectives.
Perhaps we are the leaders we have been waiting for
Advocates of shared leadership theories assert that leadership is more than an individual characteristic. Shared leadership theories (Fleishman, Mumford, Saccaro, et.al., 1991; Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 1993) suggest that leadership isn’t defined by the individual or their position of authority. Rather, leadership is defined by actions and relationships that result in shared outcomes. In other words, many people can play an active part in leadership by stepping forward, taking action, and influencing others to become involved in projects or shared efforts. When defined in this way, leadership is created through the sharing of influence and the practice of collaboration and teamwork.
How might your community cultivate more engaged leadership?
Most community leaders would agree that having a team of leadership is preferred – even necessary – for addressing the complexities of community life. Leaders in the arts, economic development, social issues, health, education, and safety are all needed to grow as a community. Leadership development programs address a vital and continuing need in communities and organizations across the world to equip effective leaders. By investing in leadership development, a community can help members of the community develop the competence and confidence needed to step into leadership roles.
How do we know what aspects of leadership to emphasize?
The current social distancing practice is essential to slow the spread of the COVID -19 virus. Practicing physical distancing requires us to adjust our behavior and in turn, helps us better appreciate our dependence on one another. To counter the isolation that can accompany the physical distancing, we also need to practice intentional relationship building. Studies in health and happiness (Robert Waldenger, 2015) reference a 75-year longevity study that indicated social networks are a key influencing factor contributing to well-being. The study indicates a positive correlation between increased social connections and greater health and happiness. Similarly, Susan Pinker (April 2017 Ted Talk) emphasizes that social integration and close relationships are the top factors contributing to living longer. While there are many factors that affect happiness and longevity, staying socially connected is certainly a contributing factor to individual well-being. These studies underscore the importance of maintaining community connections.
Staying Connected Takes Initiative
In times of disruption, individuals, organizations and even communities must rethink the ways of creating and sustaining connections. Many communities and organizations that have traditionally only shared communication from the top down are exploring ways of encouraging the development of stronger member to member networking. Some churches and neighborhood groups have created help chains or are using social media discussion pages to create or sustain conversations related to their organization or community.
Beyond HOW to stay connected, the communication itself is changing. Community leaders must also remember to re-emphasize WHY the community is important. Communities and organizations wanting to keep their networks strong should include communications that emphasize the mission of the organization and remind people of the importance of being a part of the community. Keep the impacts and benefits of participation clearly in focus to remind members of the importance of their affiliation with the organization or group.
Using the Networks to Strengthen the Community
Taking the organizational development even one step further, communities and organizations can also engage members as collaborators. Structured opportunities to involve the community members in conversations that seek to solve shared problems can strengthen community commitment. When people have a role in creating solutions, they typically are more invested and committed to making the solutions work. Facilitated conversations can help community members identify and brainstorm responses to the disruptions experienced.
CEDIK at the University of Kentucky is working with faculty in the Community and Leadership Development Department to design additional resources for facilitating these types of conversations with community groups.
The development of networks and relationships is always important for the health and well-being of community members and will be essential to strengthen communities after the disruptions caused by the 2020 pandemic. We encourage you to check out the resources available through CEDIK at the University of Kentucky.
It’s no secret that times are tough for Main Street businesses in this new pandemic reality our country finds ourselves in. CEDIK’s efforts have centered on working with community stakeholders to find ways to support thriving downtown businesses. At this moment, CEDIK faculty and staff are looking for ways we can contribute meaningfully to recovering and stimulating Main Street.
As events designed to protect the health of our communities have unfolded rapidly, we have been watching small businesses cope with this new landscape. We have been inspired to witness innovative ways our local businesses have endeavored to keep the lights on and their employees paid, all while safely continuing to provide their services to the local community.
Earlier this week, we had the chance to correspond with Kristin Smith, Executive Chef of The Wrigley, located on Main Street in Corbin, Kentucky. Read on to learn more about how this restaurant in Appalachian Kentucky is navigating this new normal, and what advice she has for residents, community leaders, and other retail businesses.
CEDIK: How can residents support Main Street businesses?
KS: If you have a small, local business providing goods you could get there rather than a big-box store, do it. Every single item sold counts toward keeping the doors open. If you’re limited by location or you want to keep that social distance, call the business and order a gift card, whether you use them or not. When we all reopen, consider staggering using the gift cards over the next few months to help us even out our cash flow in the beginning. If you’re in a rural area, we’re seeing challenges with internet outages and phone outages due to overload of the network—so please keep trying if you get a busy line or slow server on the online systems. We really do want to take your money—we promise! Also, practice safe social distancing. When you do order takeout or pickup, use curbside and online as much as possible to help us maintain our social distance. Observe the spacing the business establishes—especially in checkout lines where it is easy to scoot closer to the person in front of you—follow what we ask, even if you think its overkill. We are following recommendations to the letter and in some cases going over and above. I stay awake at night worrying if one of my staff or customers gets sick—it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a constant fear. Every time anyone touches a door handle, a touchscreen, or waits for their order inside or outside, we are sanitizing everything after every interaction. But with a skeleton crew, that is an extra task on top of everything else.
CEDIK: What is the most innovative “thing” you have seen a Main Street business and/or community do during COVID-19?
KS: Our city voted to suspend local, tourism, and alcohol taxes to help us offset our costs. That was a huge help for us to float us through. They’ve also been really innovative at curbside, delivery, and even take-out wine and bottled beer sales. It’s been nice to see how quickly they’ve made some of these changes happen to support us any way they can. It feels like our local leadership really wants to support us through this. On a fun note, our mayor has started a regular “wave parade” route through local neighborhoods for kids and families to come out and see her to talk with her from a distance. It’s a good way, fun way to break up the day for families who are newly homeschooling!
CEDIK: How can philanthropic organizations support Main Street businesses?
KS: Being willing to donate money and trust the business owner to allot it where it needs. The stimulus package should help with payroll and rent, utilities. But what about our other things that need addressed? If philanthropic organizations will make donations to businesses without stipulations, that would be so helpful. We see so many restrictions on the different grant and loan programs—but—for example—we’re having challenges with plumbing, and we were planning to replace our kitchen floor this month before all of this happened. Those things still need to be repaired, but we no longer have enough cash flow to fund them. If a donor called us and said, “Hey, I want to pay to have your kitchen floor replaced,” that would send me over the moon!
CEDIK: What is your biggest fear of something that will be overlooked or unintended consequences of this stimulus package?
KS: Honestly, we’re so busy in survival mode, we haven’t had time to sit down and really analyze and understand the stimulus package. We are getting so many emails and phone calls from people telling us to apply for this loan or that grant, but we aren’t sure what the best option for us is. What is the time frame for payback? We have fellow restaurant owners who, once the additional $600 a week unemployment was announced, had staff quit because they believed they would be safer staying at home and drawing more money on unemployment than working. Whether that is true about the $600 or isn’t, they believed so and it negatively impacted her business.
Will the bailout be timely enough for restaurants to get enough money to sustain until we can actually reopen? Every day it takes for employees to receive their first unemployment payment is another day that they are giving up and going to work in other industries. Once you lose those well-trained employees, it is hard to retrain a new crew. Everything changes. We are already seeing a surge of “temporary job offers” with “the possibility of permanent employment”. Most likely those businesses will keep the positions temporary—but every day we are closed it is a risk that we won’t be able to reopen at the end of this even if we can stretch our money to last.
CEDIK: Were you prepared to go online? What do other businesses need to know about going online?
KS: Be very patient with businesses trying to be open and transitioning their entire way of business. We scrambled to flip every aspect of our operations over about a 48 hour period. We didn’t have online ordering yet—we were planning to launch it in April. Well, we have it now! We had some big kinks to work out and we’re really appreciative of the customers who were patient with us and told us about their experience. We’re glad now we were able to get it up and running—online sales are around 60% of our sales now and we plan to keep it once we reopen. But there are extra fees with online sales: our Point of Sale System charges an extra 2% for every online order and an extra 1.5% for every credit card we have to type in, rather than swipe. It may not seem like much, but it really adds up at a time that we are counting every penny. I wish that processors would waive some of those fees but we need them to do business, so we are using them. We still don’t have a good way to sell gift cards online because our Point of Sale system won’t integrate with an online platform in that way, which is hurting us because we think people would be buying more gift cards if they could purchase online.
We are new to packaging takeout silverware, ketchup, sauces—all of it. We are really adapting every hour, so give businesses grace if they don’t get every aspect right. It’s a lot of change very fast. We’re even changing our menu to prepare items that can keep well until someone gets home to eat it rather than our usual practice of items that are enjoyed right away, piping hot and fresh. It’s a whirlwind of changes.
CEDIK: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
KS: This is so lonely for us, as an industry built on hospitality and human contact. Part of why we love doing what we do is because we serve our community, we see birthdays and anniversary celebrations. What I love about The Wrigley is that I have my regulars. I can ask them how their new grand baby is, how their kid is doing their first year at college, or how their dream vacation went. It is so isolating to have to switch to a sterile and distant method of communication. How do you maintain a feeling of community when we have to stay so far apart? We are figuring it out, and we understand the importance—but it doesn’t make those feelings of social isolation any less. We are already planning for when we do reopen—should we remove half of our dining room tables to ensure that we still maintain a distance for a few months to avoid another surge? Will the feeling of community, warmth, and love still be there after all of this?
For those that know me, I am an extroverted introvert. I can confidently stand in front of a large group of people and talk and talk and talk some more. But, when the presentation is over, I run for solitude. So not surprisingly, the COVID-19 social distancing has not been a terribly difficult time for me to navigate. I sit in my new makeshift office and get to work and jump on Zoom calls for several hours a day (and still get exhausted by these interactions).
What has been interesting to me is witnessing two things:
My extroverted CEDIK family who have been deeply impacted by being constrained to their home. They are not able to maintain their daily connections with friends, family, and strangers (although extroverts know no strangers). They look lonely and lost and are desperately trying to figure out how extrovert themselves during this time.
My introverted husband, who really only needs interaction with our dogs, has been obsessed with watching the news. If he could, I think he would watch from 7am until 8pm. And I can see him visibly getting agitated when he listens to interviews that don’t conform with his perspective.
I recently came across this data snapshot (that updates daily) highlighting global panic, hype, and media coverage by country. This was quite telling to me but it clearly illustrates why some of my staff and my husband are responding differently to COVID-19 than I am. The fact that there is a source that is measuring the amount of panic, hype, fake news, global sentiment and contagion media in an index suggests that we need to set some real boundaries and proactively plan for how we mentally respond to this pandemic.
I have asked my husband and my staff to consider the following recommendations:
Limit your exposure to the news and other media designed to create hype about COVID-19. Pick your trusted source of information, tune in for when a daily update occurs, and then turn it off. In Kentucky, our Governor gives us one update a day at 5pm on Facebook live, where he discusses the number of new state cases and policies. This is when I tune in. I then read a trusted news source after the President speaks to see if there are any new federal policies implemented. That’s it for me each day.
Reach out to your coworkers and friends, even if it is just a text, to see how they are doing. Pick up the phone, or Zoom/Skype, and call relatives, particularly those that are older. This is an even scarier time for them.
Set a schedule, just as if you were at work. Checking off “to-do” items is just as meaningful (if not more) during this time.
Be kind(er). Be patient. Be generous.
These are not overly sophisticated recommendations but I find that these have helped me navigate these challenging times. With the extension of social distancing through the end of April, we need to be deliberate about our intentions moving forward.
By Dr. Alison Davis, CEDIK Executive Director Written by Roberto Gallardo and Richard Florida (see post) and adapted for Kentucky communities by the author
The authors explore two factors when assessing a county’s readiness for remote work: the availability of digital connectivity and/or the share of workers employed in industries and occupations that are amenable to remote work. “If a particular county has both limited digital connectivity and a higher share of non-remote work workers, it will more than likely struggle to leverage e-learning and remote work. We looked at the geography of remote work across America’s 3,000 plus counties.”
The analysis for Kentucky reveals that 75 of Kentucky’s counties are considered moderately or highly vulnerable to the remote work shift. The map below highlights county-by-county analysis. Kentucky rural communities tend to be more vulnerable for two reasons: access to high-speed broadband and a large share of employment is based in manufacturing, healthcare, and retail trade. For most of those industries it is a challenge to “bring work home.”
Kentucky Counties Vulnerable to Shift to Remote Work (Chart and Map)
Over 62% of Kentucky’s counties are considered moderately or highly vulnerable to the remote work shift.*
*Access to broadband is measured through the FCC which does not always fully reflect true conditions and overstates access.
Kentucky Census Tracts* Vulnerable to Shift to Remote Work
*11 census tracts were too small to provide a measure.
What does this mean?
Not all counties are equally suited to shift to remote work during the COVID-19 crisis. This analysis also does not account for an employer’s ability to shift to a remote work system (including mindset, information technology, etc.). Not surprisingly, more urban areas are less vulnerable than rural areas, but even within urban and rural areas, the ability to access consistent high-speed broadband is mixed.
If it’s a challenge for employees to remote work due to lack of broadband access, it will also be a challenge for students to access online learning materials. In addition, it is a challenge for individuals to socially connect through FaceTime, Zoom, etc. Many rural communities have relied on accessing public Wi-Fi through libraries, schools, and McDonalds. With those entities closed, access is greatly diminished.
What can we do?
We don’t assume everyone has access to the same resources we do and we don’t isolate individuals.
We are patient with everyone and understand that it may take longer to get responses back or deliverables.
We use our cell phones to connect, where service is available.
We call people to make sure they are okay and to socially connect.
To prepare for next time…
Consider portable technologies like MiFi (Wi-Fi hotspots) that households can borrow. Schools, libraries, and other non-profit entities could host the equipment. Click here to learn more.
As a community, identify the pockets of the county that do not have access. This gives first responders, non-profits, etc. ideas about where to deploy resources first. Click here to learn more about how to assess connectivity.
Employers can assess current capacity for remote work and then create a plan to expand access. Click here to learn more about creating an effective teleworking program.
Many people have a complicated relationship with change. Change is good when we want it (Yes!), and bad when we don’t (No Way!).
The challenge with this “yes or no” response to change is that it makes community development very difficult. Some people will like an idea, and others won’t. Drivers of community change are then stuck in a dilemma. Do they try to form a winning team to push change through, or do they give up? If we adopt these contradictory attitudes, leading change becomes competitive and “winning” means that implementing change requires us to push our ideas over the concerns and disagreement of others. This one-sided approach to change can result in the generation of resentment within the community and create a disdain for change.
Authors Rowland and Higgs (2009) detail a study of organizational change initiatives. The authors found that when leadership pushes one rigidly imposed change solution through an organization, the change is typically met with resistance, is poorly adopted and is usually less sustainable over time. There are exceptions, of course, but overall, top-down change initiatives were less successful. However, systemic changes that allow employees to integrate change in ways that are most appropriate to their work situation encountered less resistance to adoption and were ultimately more sustainable. Surprising? Not really. People tend to appreciate being asked their opinion over being told what to do. Yet leaders tend to wish for the ideal of quick, simple and clear change and so continue to push, push, push change solutions to the frustration and stress of the employees.
What can community leaders learn from this?
Communities and corporations are not the same, but there are similarities. If community leaders imagine the community as an employee owned partnership, leading change becomes more a process of engaging with partners in shared solution finding and less a process of imposing power and change over employees. This simple shift in perspective changes everything. Respect and power is shared among partners. This new relationship requires a change in tactics. Changing tactics alters the outcome. When leadership shifts from imposing change over the community to working with community members, creating change becomes a collective endeavor. David Mathews (2014) argues that this type of collaborative initiative supports stronger communities through the creation of an environment of democracy where residents share in the decisions that impact them. Shared participation in community change initiatives and the identification of common goals can increase public trust, responsibility and commitment to goal attainment.
Community Engagement is a Kentucky Priority
A statewide assessment of community issues hosted by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension System (Statewide Community Needs Assessment, 2019) indicates that a leading concern of Kentucky residents is the need for increased community engagement. Kentucky residents stressed the need for more involvement in issue identification, problem solving, opportunities for leadership, and action to improve their community. The Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK) has resources to engage community members in establishing their future. Visit the CEDIK website to learn more about strategic planning and community engagement strategies available to your community.
Mathews, David. (2014). The Ecology of Democracy: Finding ways to have a stronger hand in shaping our future. Kettering Foundation Press. Dayton, Ohio.
Rowland, D., & Higgs, M. (2009). Sustaining change: Leadership that works. John Wiley & Sons.
*Daniel Kahl is the Associate Director of CEDIK and an Assistant Professor in Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky.
A survey was conducted of stores accepting SNAP electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards in the Kentucky counties of Bourbon, Boyle, Breathitt, Jackson, Knott, Lincoln, Madison, and Owsley. The survey was a component of research conducted by CEDIK at the University of Kentucky, in conjunction with the Kentucky Grocers and Convenience Store Association to gain a better understanding of local food environments and to learn more about grocery store policies and practices. While survey response numbers were small, this study revealed multiple barriers to healthy food access to consumers in the study area.
Stores responding to the survey acknowledged that transportation can be an issue for customers. Lack of reliable personal transportation, restricted public transportation, and cost of travel all contribute to challenges of EBT card users when wanting to access stores. In addition, distances of travel in rural areas can often add to the challenge of access to groceries.
Restricted Hours of Store Operation
Like many businesses, some stores operate on a regular business time schedule. SNAP food service providers who responded to the 2018 Grocer’s Survey in Central and Eastern Kentucky have hours of operation that overlap with a typical work day. This can create an accessibility issue for people working a typical 8am-5pm job. On average, consumers in Eastern Kentucky experience 49% fewer hours of access to food per week than consumers in Central Kentucky counties.
Limited Food Types
The types of foods available to customers in the study differed depending on the store’s main function. In particular, convenience stores were the most frequent respondents to the survey in the eight counties and had the most limited fresh or healthy food options. Availability of foods offered in the store were assessed by the percent of floor space dedicated to food type. In a graphic comparison between Grocery and Convenience store type between Eastern and Central Kentucky regions, it is easy to see that food access in Eastern Kentucky is distinctly different than in the more populated counties in Central Kentucky.
While the number of businesses participating in this survey make it difficult to generalize broadly, the results did indicate challenges related to healthy food access for EBT Card users. Ultimately, the consumption of fresh, healthy foods is a two-part process that must be embraced by all parties involved to achieve the desired goal. Residents must be willing and purposeful to seek out and consume healthy foods, while food providers need to better supply stores with healthy food options and adjust business operations to accommodate their customers. Healthier eating is a resolution that needs to be supported by the entire community! Want to learn more? See the full series of reports on Food Access on the CEDIK website.
Daniel Kahl is the Associate Director of CEDIK and an Assistant Professor in Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky.
Jayoung Koo is a CEDIK Community Design Specialist and an Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky.
Advertising is a necessity for business. Obviously, for people to purchase a business’ products and services, customers must know about the business. This is why much of marketing focus is on pushing messages out to the broadest crowd possible to increase awareness and connection to the business. When CEDIK asked EBT food providers in Kentucky about how they communicate with customers (Namkoong, Fawcett, Kahl, Koo, & Rossi. 2019), nearly 60% indicated they use social media, 29% utilize their local newspaper, and 18% use radio to inform customers about their business.
While most advertising is about pushing a message out, how do businesses receive feedback from their customers? The most frequent way of getting feedback in this study (indicated by 71% of respondents) is word of mouth. One important implication of using word of mouth as a communication system is that due to the informality of “word of mouth” communication, it is possible that feedback will be missed. Typically, “word of mouth” is not a formal system of collecting feedback. Customers may share comments to staff or other customers, without the feedback making its way to the owner or manager. Without a formal structure in place, customers do not have a clear avenue to share insights, ideas, or feedback. Not having a mechanism or system in place may also send a message to customers that their concerns are not important. Waiting on word of mouth comments to filter up to management also means that management may only be hearing a comment once, when it was expressed by a dozen people, or inversely, management may be making decisions based on one person’s feedback.
Improving the communication loop
Customer feedback is more than fielding complaints. If a customer invests their energy to speak up, there is an opportunity to listen and to retain that customer. Stores wanting to hear customer needs, suggestions, or concerns can develop systems to improve the collection of feedback. Customer comment boxes, on-line or paper surveys, and social media polls are just some of the ways businesses can connect more purposefully with customers to learn about their shopping and service needs.
Business owners can actively use social media polls to better understand their customers shopping preferences, shopping schedules, or purchase needs. For a report on business tactics and more ideas visit Getting the Word Out: Communication Methods on the CEDIK website.
Businesses need customers like communities need businesses
Just as businesses must listen to their customers, communities must also listen to their businesses. If your community would like a process to listen to business owner needs, the Business Retention and Expansion program offered through CEDIK can help your community improve the communication loop.
*Daniel Kahl is the Associate Director of CEDIK and an Assistant Professor in Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky.