One in five businesses surveyed by Red Deer’s chamber of commerce are worried they will not survive past the latest pandemic health restrictions.
More than half — 56 per cent — said they had substantially less revenue and four in 10 businesses said they had laid off staff since the government introduced various restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“This is a scary reality as businesses are frustrated, bills are piling up and there is limited data to support these measures,” said Red Deer and District Chamber of Commerce CEO Rick More. “We’re approaching a breaking point of even more layoffs, massive unemployment and permanent closures.”
The survey that drew 315 respondents showed that health restrictions and the resulting business closures have hit central Alberta businesses hard. Only 17 per cent of respondents fully supported the provincial government’s current approach.
More said many of those who responded to the survey were in the service businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, and have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
“They are running out of fumes.”
More said the chamber supports the government’s phased approach to lifting restrictions and that businesses should continue to take the necessary precautions. But the business group would like to see the economy re-opened as quickly as possible.
Many businesses feel, and More agrees, that health restrictions often did not reflect the actual risks of the virus being transmitted in their settings.
“I don’t think we’ve used the data correctly in the whole 11 months,” he said, referring to the low transmission rate in eateries and other businesses visited by the public.
The survey found less than four per cent of respondents would not be comfortable going into a local business if it re-opened.
“Part of our advocacy efforts has been to ensure government truly understands the impact this crisis and the measures designed to contain it are having on small business and those they employ,” said More.
“This data validates our message that all businesses are essential and the urgency of permanently re-opening our economy. Despite the demonstrated success businesses have had in safely operating and limiting transmission risk they remained partially or fully shuttered due to government decree and without adequate supports.”
Thirty per cent of survey respondents said government supports have not been adequate.
Of the programs available, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy appears to be the most effective, with 76 per cent of businesses saying they tapped into the program. Fifty-six per cent took advantage of the Canada Emergency Business Account and 30 per cent the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy.
More said the survey shows that the pandemic’s impact will be felt for a long time and it could be months or years in some cases before businesses see pre-COVID levels of activity.
Over the next 12 months, 17 per cent of respondents expected their business to contract and 55 per cent predicted it to stay about the same. Only 28 per cent expected their businesses to grow.