Survey shows businesses unsure of financial future

Adam Rollins
Staff Writer

A number of local businesses are uncertain of their financial future during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey conducted by Boonslick Regional Planning Commission and regional chambers of commerce.

Over 40 businesses and nonprofit agencies in the Warren County region replied to the survey. About half said they have either closed or reduced hours at some point during the COVID outbreak. Respondents also provided anonymous comments to supply more details about their situations.

“We were stressed during the COVID shutdown. Our office continued to work remotely,” said one respondent, who added that a major incident came up for their office during the closure. “This increased our work load immensely, and it was done out of office.”

Almost 90 percent of the businesses and nonprofits responding said they employ fewer than 20 people. Only one respondent said it employs more than 100 people.

The survey also asked business owners and service providers if COVID-19 would cause them to shut down for good. None of the respondents said “yes,” but three of them couldn’t provide a definite “no,” either.

“We came very close. It’s still very touch-and-go,” one respondent commented.

Seven survey respondents said they had to lay off workers during Warren County’s stay-at-home order, active March through May. Only four said they’ve been able to hire additional workers since the outbreak began.

Jan Olearnick, executive director of the Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, said business owners right now are cautiously optimistic, but also nervous about what the future might bring.

“Every day is a new day. Every day we’re hearing something that can affect how you run your business. You have to be really flexible,” Olearnick commented.

She said local retail and restaurant small business owners have borne the brunt of COVID-19’s economic impact, and still have limited operations. It’s difficult for those businesses to plan for the unknown future, including a fear of new restrictions to stem a surge of cases in Warren County, Olearnick said. But, she added, small business owners are also resilient by nature.

“There’s a new normal. People are doing business in a different capacity. They have definitely risen to the occasion of changing their day-to-day operations,” Olearnick said.

Survey respondents said their need for financial assistance is a big uncertainty. More than half of the 43 respondents said they’ve taken advantage of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program, some receiving tens-of-thousands of dollars to keep their employees on payroll. A smaller number said they received assistance through other government programs.

But depending how long COVID-19 is dragging down the economy, businesses said they could need more financial assistance in the future. About 1/4 of the respondents said they’ll definitely need more help.

“Right now, we don’t need additional funds. However, if business doesn’t pick up or if there is another shutdown of the economy, we could be in a position where additional funds are needed,” one business owner said.

Another respondent said it had missed out on over $50,000 from an annual fundraising event, and would have difficulty replacing that income.

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