New Survey Highlights Evolving Impacts to Businesses from COVID-19
Third in a series of surveys conducted since the start of the pandemic
(Regional) — Results from a new business impact survey issued to businesses located in North Central Massachusetts highlight the continued impacts to the local business community due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This survey was conducted by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the MassHire North Central Workforce Board, the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, NewVue Communities and many of the cities and towns in North Central Massachusetts.
This new survey was the third in a series of surveys conducted by the Chamber since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first two surveys, conducted in March and October of 2020, provided critical information on the immediate impacts to businesses and insight on the support most needed by businesses to weather the economic challenges caused by the pandemic. The third survey was intended to collect fresh data and to evaluate the continuing impact of the pandemic to local businesses over time.
This survey was conducted online between April 1, 2021 and April 30, 2021 in both English and Spanish. One hundred and eighty-seven responses were received, representing businesses from all twenty-seven cities and towns located in North Central Massachusetts. Respondents reflected the top industries in the region including healthcare, manufacturing, retail, food and beverages, financial services, education and agriculture among others.
Fifty percent of the businesses and organizations reported losses in 2020 when compared to 2019, with nearly 20% reporting losses of 50% or more. This was a modest improvement over the previous survey in October, where nearly 64% reported losses. When asked about the first quarter of 2021, nearly 42% reported losses compared to the same period the previous year. Approximately 43% reported that they expect it will be more than six months before their operations return to a normal level versus 54% in the Fall survey. Nearly 17% of respondents estimated they could stay operational on current cash flow and reserves for six months or less; versus 25% in the previous survey conducted in the Fall. Thirty-eight percent of the businesses responded that they had difficulty getting employees to return to work citing health and safety concerns, current unemployment, child care and adult care as the top reasons. Some businesses noted falling behind on rent and other bills, while the vast majority reported increased costs due to additional sanitation or shifting operations online.
Over 56% of the respondents indicated that they were completely open, while 40% indicated that they were only partially open in a limited way and the remainder were still closed due to the pandemic. This represented a slight change over the Fall where 50% responded that they were completely open and 46% responded that they were open in a limited way. Of those closed, the majority responded that they were planning to reopen (76%) while the others reported that they were unsure if they would be able to reopen. For comparison, during the Fall survey 69% responded that they planned to reopen, 23% responded that they were unsure and 7.69% responded that they were closed for good.
Financial programs to mitigate layoffs such as the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) was the top response when asked what businesses were using to
mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by reduction in expenses and grants from federal, state and local sources. Hiring, recruiting and retaining employees was the most requested resource when respondents were asked what resources, beyond financial assistance, would be most helpful. Communications, marketing, and social media to reach their customers was the second most requested resource. When asked how has the pandemic has changed their business plan for the next year, over 34% responded that they have no plans to change to their operations followed by “Not sure” as the next top response. Nearly 20% indicated that they plan to hire more employees and nearly 15% plan to expand their business in the next year. While the Fall survey indicated that nearly 76% of respondents indicated that the pandemic had some type of negative effect on their business/organization, the results showed a minor drop to slightly over 63% in the Spring survey.
“Despite the tremendous uncertainty, the survey results show that many businesses in the region continue to adapt to the challenges brought on by the pandemic.” said Roy Nascimento, President & CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce. “The surveys we conducted have been very helpful in evaluating the impacts of the pandemic over time, and continue to inform our efforts to help support our businesses and communities.”
“The Covid-19 Economic Impact Survey conducted by the Chamber is a vital instrument that provides our region with information that we can utilize to collectively build a stronger region post pandemic,” said Jeff Roberge, Executive Director of the MassHire North Central Workforce Investment Board. “This information will help shape our workforce development efforts and strategies over the next several months”
“We’re proud to have worked alongside the North Central Massachusetts Chamber in this effort. These results will play a critical role in gauging the pandemic’s impact on local businesses, allowing us to identify challenges as we chart a path towards recovery. We look forward to continuing this partnership as we develop and implement solutions in the months ahead” said Glenn Eaton, Executive Director of The Montachusett Regional Planning Commission. “
“Thank you to the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce for leading the way on this survey, allowing us to gather important information about small business needs in our region,” said Marc Dohan, Executive Director of New Vue Communities. “In a continually changing environment, it has been critical to get this information over time from a broad range of businesses. The results will help us design effective strategies to support businesses and residents as we all recover from the pandemic.”
Although the survey results included large businesses, the vast majority of respondents would be considered small businesses by federal standards with less than 500 employees and gross revenues less than $10 million per year. More specifically, nearly 75% reported less than 20 full time employees and 58% reporting gross income of less than $1 million. The majority of the businesses that responded were also primarily established, existing businesses in the community with an average of 32 years of operations.
A complete copy of the report can be found on the Chamber’s website at www.NorthCentralMass.com.