Local Journalism Initiative
COVID-19 Business Impact Survey to help aid businesses in recovery
Based on the results of a survey by Community Futures West Yellowhead (CFWY) in the fourth week of the COVID-19 crisis, Hinton was in relatively good shape compared to other communities.
“Hinton is in a very healthy situation in that they’re able to work virtually and [there are] a lot of innovative business ideas coming out. People are changing their business models really well to adapt,” said Nancy Robbins, CFWY general manager.
The reality for people in Hinton is that they want to reopen their businesses and let customers in, Robbins added.
“The uncertainty is really hard for a lot of people and really stressful for all of us,” she said.
Out of 81 businesses surveyed in Hinton, 32.10 per cent stated they were temporarily closed, while 25.93 per cent had business running as usual in the first week of April. The majority of businesses or 40.74 per cent were closed to the public but operating in a different way to continue serving clients.
Business owners are trying to figure out an answer for their business and the employees that count on them.
Other communities included in the survey were Edson, Grande Cache, Jasper, and Yellowhead County. Together with its regional partners, CFWY surveyed 220 businesses throughout West Yellowhead four weeks after the provincial declaration of a State of Emergency on March 17, 2020. Now in week seven of the crisis, CFWY is using the results from the survey to work on a recovery plan.
Robbins said the biggest immediate focus is on financial issues that local businesses are having. Twenty businesses in the survey said they would need loans or financial support immediately in the COVID-19 crisis, and 16 others said they need immediate help with cash flow or operational obligations.
CFWY is spreading awareness of benefits each business can apply for through the provincial government.
Seven businesses said they need help with communication on COVID-19 and another four stated government support was necessary through financial programming. Based on the survey results, CFWY created a COVID-19 Recovery page on their website, where businesses can find tools in specific areas including coaching, training, financial information, health and safety, human resources, and marketing.
“Community Futures has been mentioned by the prime minister as being able to help people that aren’t eligible for benefits,” Robbins said.
CFWY is finalizing a loan package that will be available for businesses and match what Community Futures offices across the country offer.
“We want to be able to offer tools and products that people can take and use in their business,” Robbins said.
To re-open businesses after the COVID-19 crisis is over, businesses said they need financial support and business support, marketing tools, health and safety protocols post-COVID-19, and tools to attract and retain employees.
The response from Community Futures is gradually moving from the immediate response of helping people to looking at tools businesses need to operate.
Scott Kovatch, economic development officer of the Town of Hinton, said the survey is a crucial document in understanding the business climate and immediate needs of the local business community.
“In reviewing, the results appear to be fairly similar to those found in the rest of the province, reiterating the idea that we are all in this together,” he stated.
Natalie Charlton, executive director of the Hinton & District Chamber of Commerce said she felt that Hinton responded fairly positively in comparison to other communities, though there were some red flags in the results.
Even though Hinton is tourism-centered, the community of Hinton still has many businesses that are able to conduct business through COVID-19 compared to tourism communities like Jasper, Charlton observed.
“It is going to be very difficult, businesses have had to learn how to navigate through something that’s very uncertain and there definitely are some concerns,” Charlton said.
Being on lockdown as the province heads into tourism season will have a huge impact on hotels and other tourism-related businesses. Revenue from the next five to six months is what carries some of these businesses through the following five to six months, Charlton added.
Charlton also pointed out that retail businesses just weathered the two months difficult months of the year for retail sales when COVID-19 hit.
Some business owners have laid off staff in order to reduce their costs.
Fifty-nine of the businesses in the survey had already laid off staff either permanently, temporarily, or for medical reasons, which totalled to 273 layoffs locally in the fourth week of this crisis.
“Sometimes when you have to lay off your staff, they relocate out of your town or move on to something else, there is always the concern of not getting your staff back,” Charlton said.
Compared to 2019, revenue during the COVID-19 crisis has decreased by an average of 60 per cent across the businesses surveyed.
Businesses said cash flow, loss of revenue, and paying rent were some of the top challenges during COVID-19 crisis.
Top concerns about reopening after COVID-19 included the lack of tourism, finding enough employees, and the length of closures due to the crisis.
“I don’t think that people are just going to return to normal, I think it’s going to take some time and there’s probably going to be some precautions that will be implemented,” Charlton commented.
CFWY’s health and safety business advisor is working on cleaning protocols and things to keep businesses safe for staff and clients, Robbins said.
Safety, health, and not having enough revenue to pay staff were all main concerns for staff and employee retention.
Chalrton added that the survey from Community Futures serves as a great tool for the community, “It gives us an overall feel of the community and how they’re making it through the crisis.”
Kovatch added that information regarding the status of business operations, employment levels, and change in sales is important in understanding the needs of businesses.
Organizations like the Town of Hinton can use information from the survey to strategize, support, and plan recovery needs moving forward.
“The Town’s Development Services staff are currently reaching out directly to the business community speaking with them gathering information that will help develop an Economic Recovery Support response as well,” said Kovatch.
To view the CFWY COVID-19 recovery package for local businesses, head to westyellowhead.albertacf.com/covid-19-recovery