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Western Illinois University Instructor of Management Sarah Shike
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Western Illinois University Assistant Professor of Accounting Jennifer McGarry
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Two WIU College of Business and Technology Faculty Investigate Small Business Response to COVID-19

July 22, 2020

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MACOMB, IL - - Western Illinois University Instructor of Management, and doctoral student at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Charlotte Sarah Shike, and WIU Assistant Professor of Accounting Jennifer McGarry are performing research to determine how small businesses have responded to the global pandemic and how this could be the key to bouncing back from COVID-19.

Shike and McGarry, along with Franz Kellermanns, management professor at UNC Charlotte; Laura Madden, associate professor at East Carolina University; Emma Lloyd Best, assistant professor at Wake Forest University of Business; and Marcy Binkley, accounting instructor at Lipscomb University College of Business, have interviewed small businesses across the United States to determine how they responded to the altered business environment caused by COVID-19 and what lessons can be learned from their responses.

"Small business owners are a resilient bunch, and if they were to go down during this global pandemic, they would do it swinging," said Shike. "We knew that learning about the approaches they adapted for survival in this unprecedented business environment was more than intriguing, but could offer guidance for businesses facing similar crises in the future."

Shike came up with the idea while speaking with her dissertation chair in March. She noted some businesses were announcing unique adaptations even prior to directives to do so. They began discussing the changes small businesses had been making to adapt to the pandemic, and how they related to previous academic research about business adaptations during man-made and natural disasters. They agreed this would be an interesting, emerging issue to collect data on and explore further.

Shike quickly assembled a team and began the proper paperwork for research approval.

After interviewing more than 40 business owners and managers in April about their experiences adapting to the altered business environment caused by the pandemic, Shike said the team was impressed by the imaginative ways businesses used technology, innovation, networks and other means possible to serve customers, protect employees and conserve their businesses. While some businesses had relatively little need to shift operations dramatically, others have endured much different realities, even being forced to cease operations altogether in some cases.

Shike said the interview process could be very emotional at times.

"It is often difficult to focus solely on the business itself when you speak to small business owners," Shike said. "The business is a reflection of their passions, identity, beliefs and sometimes heritage, so they are as much a part of the business identity, as the business is a piece of them. Sometimes it is so tightly interwoven that it's virtually impossible to distinguish the difference."

The interviews have been transcribed, and the team is currently reviewing, coding and researching applicable theory as it applies to the data. Follow-up interviews are planned. Shike said that common themes have already started to show up.

"As we study the transcripts, I am truly humbled by the overwhelming care these entities have for their employees and communities. It is astounding the lengths they've gone to and personal sacrifices they've made to protect and support them. Even when some were being pulled under due to their altered business environment, they were looking for ways to help and support others."

It has been inspiring to see the ways in which businesses have found to serve their employees and communities, as well as the ways employees and communities have supported the businesses. I believe more than ever that small businesses are our community heroes, and that their passion, care and resiliency will be the driving force behind us bouncing back from this as a nation."

For more information on Shike's research, contact Shike at For more information on Western's College of Business and Technology, visit

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