Chamber reports ‘glimmers of hope’

6 mins read

By Mindy Lucas

Businesses on hold or closed. Revenue impacted. Owners frustrated with the loan or recovery assistance process.

Findings from a recent survey conducted by the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce paint a grim picture no doubt about it, but dig a little deeper and there are also ‘glimmers of hope,’ says Chamber President and CEO Ian Scott.

“Uncertainty is still kind of ruling the day,” Scott said recently by phone about the report released earlier in the month showing the impacts of COVID-19 on the chamber’s members.

“That said, I feel there is confidence building among all of our businesses and many of the fundamentals are still strong in our economy. The pain is acute, but there are still some ‘glimmers of hope,’” he said.

The survey was conducted at the height of the state-ordered closings from the pandemic, from April 21 through May 2 and a report on its findings was released on May 4.

Key findings showed that:

• 89 percent of respondents report revenue impact, 80 percent report operational impact. 

• Decrease in customers/orders is the most cited impact. 

• Roughly half of respondents have reduced staffing capacity. 

• The majority of respondents are confident that their business will survive, though the near term remains unclear. 

For a greater understanding of what findings like “operational impact” mean, Scott said it helps to have anecdotal information to go along with the survey as well.

That insight has come through conversations he and his staff have had with chamber members, he said.

For instance, operational impact can cover a range of impacts depending on the type of business. For some, that means a forced closure impacted the ability to serve customers, while for others that may mean supply chain distribution problems or a decrease in orders. And of course, all of those issues impact a business’ ability to make money, Scott said.

In addition, the effects are widespread and can vary. For instance, despite the closings, not all retail businesses have suffered.

“Grocery retailers have been, in some cases, busier than they’ve ever been,” he said, adding that those businesses, however, may be dealing with other issues such as changing procedures or store policies in an attempt to keep employees safe.

“Whereas with downtown businesses, it may be about getting customers to feel comfortable to come back out again,” he said.

Businesses such as restaurants, for instance, have only recently been allowed to re-open after having been shut down since mid-March. Retail and other businesses deemed “non-essential” have also begun the re-opening process.

Another key finding from those surveyed highlighted the frustration business owners felt in trying to apply for financial assistance at the onset of the closures.

Some 83 percent of respondents applied for assistance through the U.S. Small Business Administration including the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan program or both and multiple members reported frustration and delays with processing those applications for loans or financial assistance.

While the survey’s sample size was a little small and therefore that percentage could have been a little lower in reality, Scott said it was fair to say lots of businesses had been critical of the process.

“The clarity, the speed and processing, all of those haven’t been seamless we certainly detected,” he said.

Since then, however, members have reported some progress in receiving assistance through these programs, particularly with the Paycheck Protection Program which initially ran out of money before funds were added. 

There’s also been some movement in the backlog of unemployment claims that were initially going unaddressed. The numbers of those too have begun to diminish, Scott said.

Still, there remains much work to be done, he cautioned. 

In addition to outlining the immediate and critical needs of businesses, the chamber is working with its various partners, such as the city, county, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, DHEC, the Governor’s office and the Centers for Disease Control to identify ways to help businesses and residents.

The chamber has also rolled out a new webinar series featuring guest speakers from a variety of industries or backgrounds. And, he said, these partners are all still looking at the process for re-opening while also noting the importance of avoiding a ‘significant transmission of the disease’ to the community.

“Which is why it’s important for everybody to have policies in place – policies for mitigating the contracting of the disease – and then follow those policies,” he said.

To read the full report visit www.beaufortchamber.org/covid-19-business-impact-survey-findings/.

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