Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson. Photo: Tyler Harper

Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson. Photo: Tyler Harper

NEWS AND VIEWS: COVID-19 survey shows impact on small business

Tom Thomson writes about the latest in Nelson’s local business community

Nearly 18 months into this COVID pandemic, we are on the precipice of either a positive breakthrough or sliding backward, which would be devastating to business.

The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce worked collaboratively with the BC Chamber in our seventh BC MIND reader Business Pulse Check. These surveys have been ongoing since the outset of the pandemic, and have been instrumental in helping to shape government recovery policy.

The recent COVID-19 Pulse Check survey revealed that businesses are hopeful about the future with 60 per cent of respondents saying they are optimistic or very optimistic about the next 12 months. However, while BC’s Restart Plan is well underway with COVID-19 restrictions easing, businesses continue to feel the impact of the pandemic and need support to navigate the current environment, in particular, seeking help to access a pool of skilled workers from which to hire and train.

Twenty-three per cent of the businesses surveyed report that they are in poor or very poor shape, down from 36 per cent since the previous Pulse Check survey in April 2021, a clear signal that operating conditions are beginning to improve. Businesses also report that 62 per cent of employees are already back in the workplace.

Fifty-nine per cent report that access to labour continues to be a challenge. Approximately seven out of 10 businesses (69 per cent) report using at least one form of government support, highlighting the need for supports to continue as businesses navigate through and beyond the pandemic.

Business metrics

The most common impacts continue to be decreased sales volume, reported by 62 per cent of businesses, with 19 per cent of businesses reporting their revenues have decreased by over 25 per cent since mid-June 2021.

• 37 per cent introduced or increased online, digital or e-commerce operations.

Government recovery plan and support

• 69 per cent (unchanged since April 2021) are using some form of government support program. The most useful programs continue to be the CEWS program (44 per cent), followed by CEBA (38 per cent), and CERA (22 per cent). Businesses note that government support programs would be most helpful if they provided more support for wages and greater tax relief.

Long-term impact of the pandemic

Since the beginning of the pandemic, businesses report that the following areas have become more expensive or difficult to navigate:

• Cost of doing business — 66 per cent of respondents

• Access to labour — 59 per cent, up from 41 per cent

• Cost of labour — 57 per cent

• Availability of workers — 55 per cent, up from 40 per cent

• Skill of the labour pool available — 42 per cent

Vaccination program

• 74 per cent of survey respondents have already been vaccinated, and 18 per cent plan to be vaccinated.

• 14 per cent of businesses report that they are interested in implementing COVID-19 Rapid Testing at their workplace, 52 per cent are not, and 24 per cent want more information before making a decision.

What are next steps?

Businesses critically need assistance to navigate British Columbia’s challenging labour market.

It is clear that businesses are beginning to see light at the end of a very long and challenging period. However, it is also very apparent that they need continued support to navigate through the final phases of B.C.’s Restart Plan. While we will continue to advocate to ensure the necessary supports are in place from all levels of government, it is equally important to secure our second dose of vaccine.

We can’t afford to go back, but there are some troubling indicators in our region. For everyone 18-plus, Nelson is at 71 per cent first dose and 60 per cent both doses. Vaccination rates are higher amongst the older population bring the average to that 71 per cent range. Younger demographics, the 18-49 age group is 63 per cent first dose and 47 per cent both doses. That is not nearly high enough.

On the flip side, Whistler has one of the highest numbers of residents who have received first doses: 99.6 per cent.

We continue to see Nelson area small businesses having to close due to COVID exposure and positive cases. Businesses have struggled too long to have to face this. Continue to be diligent. Follow business protocols whether that is mask wearing, sanitizing, or doing what they feel necessary to stay open. Wear masks in enclosed areas where distancing isn’t possible. Get vaccinated when you feel comfortable. It’s the shot in the arm that businesses and our community needs to remain open for business.