Perth County surveys indicate some businesses unaware of available COVID-19 support

·4 min read

PERTH COUNTY – The Economic Development & Tourism Division in partnership with InvestStratford has conducted three surveys throughout the pandemic to monitor the ongoing impacts to the business community. The goal of the surveys was to understand the types of support needed by businesses to develop programming and advocate on their behalf.

The release of the results of the third Business Impact Surveys has revealed more information about how local businesses are continuing to cope with the current situation and shifting restrictions to their business operations. The third survey has revealed a strong uptake in provincial and federal support programs as well as resilience amongst businesses to adapt operations. Sentiments amongst the business community reflect mental exhaustion as the long-term nature of the pandemic wears on.

Justin Dias, manager of Economic Development and Tourism, guided Perth County council through a presentation on May 20, reflecting on all three surveys while highlighting the results of the third survey.

The first COVID-19 business survey was launched as the pandemic was declared and emergency measures were rapidly evolving. The second survey followed the announcement and implementation of many provincial and federal government supports and programs.

The second survey took place after CERB and the wage subsidy program and other supports were more firmly in place and as businesses were preparing to emerge from the first wave of the pandemic.

Between the second survey and the launch of the third survey, Economic Development and Tourism staff conducted a series of business check-in calls to identify issues for businesses that may not have been readily reflected in surveys and to provide a one-on-one outlet for businesses to share concerns, resource and problem-solving.

“I would say that the announcement of the opening of the Tourism Support Grant last week… is a significant point of concern that we heard from businesses, especially those businesses in the tourism and accommodation sector who were left out of the small business support grant,” said Dias. “The announcement of this program a few months ago and then the very welcome announcement of the opening of the application portal … (will) help to ease a lot of the concern that businesses were feeling and expressing this survey. I think we might get a different result if we were to survey even this week compared to the beginning of last week.”

Shortly after the launch of the third business impact survey, the province announced the most recent stay-at-home order which drastically affected the business environment. Perth County staff decided to keep the survey open to provide an outlet for businesses and to maintain an open channel of communication for any new and emerging challenges.

Over three-quarters of the responding businesses were small to medium size with no more than 20 employees

The impact to responding businesses remained significant and there were only a handful of respondents who indicated that they were able to relatively maintain business as usual.

Businesses indicated they have utilized a variety of methods to ease the impact of the pandemic including layoffs, emergency loans or grants and reduction or shut down of operations.

CERB, the wage subsidy and small business grant were the most accessed programs

There was a relatively high rate of businesses that were successful when applying for funding which demonstrates relatively low barriers to acceptance.

Respondents indicated there were a significant number of support programs they were unaware of. Dias suggested a more targeted approach may be required for these lesser-known support programs to ensure that eligible businesses are taking advantage of the support.

Financial supports remain a top priority for businesses including property tax and utility relief as well as general cash flow assistance.

About 75 per cent of responding businesses indicated they had to lay off up to five people. Despite layoffs, nearly half indicated they anticipated they would be able to re-hire post-pandemic.

Over half of respondents of the third survey indicated they anticipate they could fully recover or they already have recovered and 35 per cent remain unsure if they will be able to recover.

Dias said there is a sense of fatigue amongst businesses with the pandemic after over a year of varying levels of restrictions, which mirrors the general population.

Enhanced incentives, as well as marketing and promotional support, were cited as helpful post-COVID recovery supports that will be most needed.

“In conclusion … there wasn’t anything significant outstanding that we weren’t expecting to see, which I suppose is an observation in itself,” said Dias. “There is not some burning underlying issue that we’re not aware of and we do look forward to doing some more analysis in terms of some of those programs that are not being accessed or not known about to make sure we can get that information out to the business community.”

He mentioned that the survey responses were lower for the third survey than the previous two.

“I think we can attribute that to some survey fatigue and I do anticipate launching another round of telephone check-in calls as we enter that kind of more focused and sustained recovery response,” said Dias.

“People are fatigued in many ways these days,” said Coun. Daryl Herlick. “Great work compiling the data there.”

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner