A recent survey looking into the effects of the Covid-19 crisis on businesses in the Leeds-Grenville, Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes region has demonstrated both the range of businesses operating in the area, and their vulnerability to the situation we are in. The Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes COVID-19 Business Survey was launched by the region’s Business Support Working Group, and took place between March 30 to April 3.
Of the 473 businesses that submitted responses to the survey, a remarkable 30% (145) are owned by self-employed individuals, while another 33.62% (159) employed less than five workers. The next largest category was for those who employed between 5 and 19 employees, amounting to 26.43%, or 125 businesses.
This indicates that 90% of businesses in the survey area are probably the least equipped to handle long-term shutdowns, and are most vulnerable to complete closure should the worst happen. When asked in the survey how they would describe the impact of Covid-19 on their business, 11.7%, or 55 businesses, answered: “Absolutely awful. I don’t think our business will make it through”.
Another large group, 297 or 63.2%, answered: “We are struggling; recovery from this could take some time”. The remainder, about a quarter of those surveyed, felt that the pandemic hadn’t really affected them yet, or even that their business was adjusting and actually growing through the crisis.
“We have strong entrepreneurial roots in the region with 30% of our survey respondents self-employed. Some of our businesses feel they are falling into the federal and provincial program gaps,” says Ann Weir, Economic Development Manager for the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.
According to the Working Group report, nearly 50% of survey respondents are not aware of what programs are available as they noted the lack of clarity on some of the government messaging. As a result, 22 businesses were closing permanently; 44% were closing temporarily, others were reducing their hours of operation or laying off staff. The survey showed a remarkably long list of other measures being taken to cope in the short-term, as business owners did whatever they could to keep their heads above water. This included some who were taking a job outside their business in order to avoid personal bankruptcy.
“Now, more than ever, our local business community need us,” says Leeds Grenville Warden Pat Sayeau. “The Leeds Grenville Mayors are working to ensure the needs of businesses in rural Eastern Ontario are heard as the province starts their recovery plans.”
One of the greatest needs expressed by respondents was for information, direction as to where to find help, whether from federal, provincial, or municipal governments. To get that information, 42% relied on local media, 3.46% on municipal or county websites, and 2.16% on local Chambers of Commerce.
The Working Group is composed of members from all 13 municipalities, 7 Chambers of Commerce, 3 Employment Service Offices, 4 Downtown Business Improvements Areas, 2 Small Business Enterprise Centres and 3 Community Futures Development Corporations.
The group continues to communicate on how, as a region, it can provide the best assistance possible to support businesses through this crisis.
“Today we can support our essential businesses that are open, by taking the time to understand their new operating procedures, be patient and give your encouragement,” says Warden Sayeau. As part of the region’s business recovery steps, he suggests “to start thinking how you can support others when they reopen. It’s going to be a long road back for business and they will need everyone’s support for years to come.”
One major conclusion that can be reached from studying the survey results is that it is very important that we support our local businesses; not just those that remain open now, but especially after life has regained some sense of normality. The majority of local businesses are small businesses, and they should be given as much business as we can provide to keep them going in the uncertain future. Needless to say, those businesses that have kept going through this time deserve, not only our support, but our thanks and respect.
The Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes Business COVID-19 Survey Report is available at www.investleedsgrenville.com/covid19 along with contact information for members of the Business Support Working Group.