A survey suggests the COVID-19 pandemic has had an overwhelmingly negative effect on local business.
Almost eight of 10 respondents (79 per cent) told surveyors that the pandemic has negatively impacted their business, with 15.5 per cent saying that they experienced what the report calls “business-as-usual” conditions. The rest — 5.5 per cent — said the pandemic had a positive impact on their operations.
The Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and the Sidney Business lmprovement Area Society (SBIA) developed and conducted the survey in collaboration with Sidney staff and the municipality’s emergency operations centre (EOC). Drawing on Sidney’s database of 981 licensed businesses, surveyors received 324 responses from 700 businesses that they had contacted for a completion rate of 33 per cent. Surveyors solicited responses from a broad range of industries with the share of received responses coming close to the actual number of businesses in those sectors.
Of particular interest is the section of the survey that addresses the employment picture. Just over half of the businesses (52 per cent) that reported negative effects said they had laid off staff. When asked whether they would bring back laid-off staff, 59 per cent said they plan to bring back some but not all and 30 per cent said they would not be bringing staff back.
While not readily comparable to larger national surveys that Statistics Canada has conducted, the Sidney survey confirms broader trends, starting with the fact that the pandemic has had the most severe effects on human-facing industries such as retail and restaurants.
Local retailers accounted for more than half (54 per cent) of all layoffs, while service businesses accounted for 25 per cent of layoffs. The remaining 26 per cent spread across 12 listed categories, suggesting that the actual job losses in those sectors were generally small.
Almost two out of three businesses (65 per cent) said they had accessed federal or provincial programs or funding designed to ease the economic effects of the pandemic.
When asked about concerns for their own businesses, respondents said they were concerned about when customers might return; reduced tourism; supply chain issues; reduced customer demand; a second wave of the pandemic; long term economic decline; and client safety.
When asked about the business community in general when coming out of the pandemic, respondents identified economic recession; widespread business closures; rising commercial vacancy rates; ability to meet new regulations; staff retention; reduced consumption, demand and foot traffic; and ability of the business community to survive a potential second wave.
The survey — whose results will go into the hands of Sidney’ recovery task force committee created last week — also offers some insights into measures that businesses consider helpful. Fifteen per cent of businesses said they support creating or expanding operations outdoors.
Sixteen per cent said they would welcome in-person guidance about safe reopening and opening procedures. By way of background, EOC staff have already been working with local businesses.
More than 60 per cent of responses fall into the category of ‘others’ with recommendations from respondents ranging from increased child support to buy-local campaigns to improved coordination, collaboration and communication among local businesses.
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