By Steve Hubrecht
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce has conducted another COVID-19 impact pulse check survey on the state of business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the results for the Columbia Valley show, not surprisingly, that business is down throughout the valley across a range of sectors.
The survey follows up on a similar survey in mid March and was conducted from March 26 to April 1 through the B.C. Chamber’s Mindreader platform. This second survey drew responses from 64 Columbia Valley businesses based in Invermere, Radium Hot Springs, and Fairmont Hot Springs in accommodation and food services, retail, real estate and property lease, construction, and other sectors.
The survey found a reported 41 per cent overall reduction in sales volume. A total of 80 per cent of business reported a decrease in business, 67 per cent had closed temporarily, 41 per cent had laid off employees, 38 per cent had reduced staff hours, and 30 per cent had deferred or cancelled capital projects. Unfortunately two per cent reported they had closed permanently, and 34 per cent had cancelled contracts or tenders.
It wasn’t all bad news, and many Columbia Valley businesses are doing their best to adapt to the pandemic as much as possible: the survey found that 19 per cent had increased their online, digital or e-commerce, six per cent had introduced new products, and two per cent had actually managed to increase their sales volumes.
In terms of how many employees businesses had been forced to lay off, the mean number of employees laid off by Columbia Valley businesses responding to the survey was 22.7. This number however, is perhaps reflective of a relatively small number of larger business, as the median number of employees laid off by Columbia Valley businesses responding to the survey was four.
Looking at just how far sales volumes have dropped for local establishments, 41 per cent of businesses reported their sales volume dropping by 100 per cent, another 23 per cent of businesses said it had dropped between 75 per cent and 99 per cent, and a further 11 per cent reported sales volumes drops of between 50 per cent and 74 per cent. In sum this means three quarters of Columbia Valley businesses surveyed have seen, at minimum, their sales cut in half, while four out of ten have seen it evaporate completely.
Of the businesses still standing, 70 per cent said they expect further decreased sales volumes in the coming two weeks. On the other hand, 16 per cent reported that they expect to increase digital commerce in coming weeks. Some three per cent said they may need to close permanently in the coming weeks, while 56 per cent thought they may need to close temporarily.
Only eight per cent of Columbia Valley businesses surveyed thought the economy will rebound quickly here in the valley once the COVID-19 crisis is over, while 55 per cent thought it would be slow, and 38 per cent were unsure. Those who thought the local economic recovery would be slow were asked why: 71 per cent cited permanent damage to customer’s ability to pay, 54 per cent pointed to insufficient global economic activity; 49 per cent indicated permanent damage stemming from the workforce hiatus; 37 per cent indicated insolvency or lack of financial capacity to restart the business, 11 per cent cited insufficient government response, and six per cent said they thought the pre-COVID economy was overheated and due for a correction.
Survey respondents were asked about the top three measures the Provincial government could adopt that would help keep their organization in operation: 56 per cent indicated further reducing taxes facing B.C. businesses and households, and 56 per cent suggested providing direct support to B.C. industry sectors particularly affected by the pandemic. Some 47 per cent suggested rolling back B.C. Hydro rates, 33 per cent suggested collaborating with properties owners and tenants and considering remedies for businesses not able to pay rent, and 30 per cent suggested freezing municipal business property tax levels and allowing businesses to defer payments.