A recent survey of the local business community about the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that 68% of respondents have had a decrease in sales this year, with 25% reporting sales at less than half of last year’s. Another 10% said year-to-date sales matched the same period in 2019, while 20% reported an increase over last year’s sales.
The Lincoln County News launched a survey in Aug. 17 to learn about the impact the pandemic and the government response have had on local businesses and organizations.
The survey was anonymous and responses were accepted until Sept. 4. The survey received 100 responses, with 98 respondents saying their business is in Lincoln County.
The survey asked respondents whether the business is seasonal or year-round, what type of business it is, and how long the business has been in operation.
Respondents were asked whether layoffs or furloughs took place as a result of the pandemic, whether pay or benefits were cut for employees or for management and ownership, and the business’s income.
Of the 100 respondents who answered the question, 39% saw temporary furloughs as a result of the pandemic, while 7% reported permanent layoffs.
The following question asked whether the business had returned to full staff, with 36% of respondents reporting the business had not. Of the 43 respondents who chose to elaborate on why their business had not returned to full staff, 12% said vacancies could not be filled, while 9% said staff had found other work and 7% said staff was refusing to work.
In regard to reducing employee pay or hours, 34% of the 100 respondents said cuts made due to economic disruption from the pandemic were still in place, while 15% said cuts were made but have since been restored. A majority of respondents, 51%, said they did not need to cut hours or pay.
Answers to the following question, about reduction in hours or pay for management, differed. Of the 100 respondents, 46% reported no cuts, while 43% said cuts were still in place. Another 11% said cuts that were made have since been restored.
In response to a question regarding business closures, 41% of respondents said they halted operations temporarily due to the pandemic but have since reopened. Another 12% halted operations but were planning to reopen, while 6% closed permanently. But 41% of respondents said they did not halt operations for any period of time during the pandemic.
Of the 58 respondents to the question, 59% said their business was closed for longer than two months, while 31% closed for one to two months and 9% for one to four weeks. Of why their businesses closed, 30% of respondents cited employee and public safety concerns as the main reason they closed, while 25% said government mandates were the reason. Another 25% said the loss of business did not make operations worthwhile. Making safety improvements or changing operating models received 5% of the vote.
Of the 99 respondents to the question, 52% said they did not apply for funds from the Payroll Protection Program, while 43% applied and received funding. Another 2% said they applied but did not receive funds, while 1% said they were approved but did not use funds. Finally, 2% were planning to apply.
Businesses were asked about their business’s 2020 performance prior to March, when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Lincoln County.
Of the 100 respondents, 27% reported having flat sales at the end of February compared to last year, 39% said they had an increase in sales over the first two months of last year, and 32% reported a decrease in sales .
When comparing sales between 2019 and 2020, two periods were evaluated, Jan. 1 through February and the year to date. These two comparisons were evaluated for each company, which showed 50% of respondents have been performing worse than last year since the pandemic began, while 34% reported a similar overall trend. A growth trend was noted on 16% of respondents.
The survey also asked questions about the businesses’ outlook. In response to a question asking how long a business could operate at its current level before major changes such as layoffs or closures would be required, 46% of respondents said they could operate indefinitely, 18% said they could operate for six months to a year, 16% reported that they could operate for three to six months, 9% indicated that they could operate for two to three months, and 5% said they could operate for a month. Another 6% said major changes would be required immediately or have already taken place in the past few weeks.
Responding to a question regarding plans for their business before the COVID-19 pandemic, 49% said they planned to grow their business while 45% intended to stay the course.
Of the 100 respondents, 45% said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their plans for the future.
When asked about new plans for the business, 65% of the 43 respondents who chose to answer the question said they now plan to survive this year and evaluate next year, while 12% said they plan to close their business or retire. Another 7% said they now intend to stay the course, 7% plan to consolidate or shrink their business, and 2% said they plan to grow their business.
The last question asked if respondents were considering closing as a result of the economic disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic. While a majority — 63% — said they were not considering closing, 25% of the 100 respondents said they were unsure. Another 10% said they were considering closing permanently, while 2% said they were considering closing temporarily.
“The responses to this business survey showed that the COVID-19 pandemic has made a major impact on our local business community,” said John Roberts, associate publisher of The Lincoln County News. “These results highlight the challenges our local businesses are facing and why it is critical to shop and support local, now more than ever.”LCsurvey Book