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Second survey indicates worsening impact of shutdown on local businesses

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Findings from a second survey sent out to local businesses in Rowan County last week indicate that the impact from COVID-19 has been severe.

The Rowan County Economic Development Commission sent out the survey after conducting one weeks ago. A total of 121 businesses completed the survey and 35 additional businesses partially completed it. Of the 121 businesses that completed the survey, 50 companies, which is 32.7%, reported that they were closed.

All but one of the companies that closed reported doing so in mid-to-late March. Rowan EDC president Rod Crider noted that the increase of closures in a three-week span means COVID-19-associated shutdowns have hit businesses “really hard, really fast.”

The companies that responded span sectors that include retail, finance and insurance, real estate, accommodation and food services as well as other services such as automotive repair, churches, civic and social organizations, barber/beauty shops and labor union organizations.

Crider said the economic impact is becoming even more severe as time goes on.

“The longer this goes, the higher the risk is we lose these businesses,” he said.

Another trend he noticed is that, though more than 1,500 people have been laid off or furloughed only 15 of those are expected to be permanent, according to the companies that responded.

Additionally, 122 businesses reported a decrease in weekly income, while 23 reported no change. Seven companies reported an increase in income, with two of the companies having at least a 40% increase in revenue. And 27 of the companies losing weekly revenue reported a loss of 91-100% of income.

One question in the survey addressed how long businesses could handle a shutdown before having to permanently close. Nineteen companies reported that they could only handle up to six weeks, while 17 businesses reported that they couldn’t handle any. Eight companies reported being able to handle a year-long business shutdown and still survive.

Crider said the average length of time businesses reported they could survive is 11 weeks, but more follow-up is needed to determine if that’s from the time of conducting the survey or when the pandemic came to Rowan County.

Of the 122 businesses, almost half of the companies (46.6%) had not applied for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan. For the 57 companies that did, only three applications were successful and 20 of the applications were unsuccessful. Up to 34 companies’ applications were still pending.

Part of the CARES Act relief package, funneled from the federal government, is the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program, which provides $350 billion in loans for businesses with 500 employees or less. Additionally, the program provides loan forgiveness if employers can maintain their payroll for eight weeks.

A total of 64 companies reported applying for the Payroll Protection Program. Of those, 18 applications have been successful, while eight have been unsuccessful and 36 were pending.

The final results from this survey were submitted to the Rowan EDC on April 24, and federal funds for the PPP program were first exhausted on April 16.

Looking at national data, Crider said, the county is right at the national average. Though, “there’s no comfort to know you’re doing as well as others when the impact is so severe,” he said.

Crider said manufacturing companies have stayed busy throughout the pandemic and haven’t had as severe of an impact. Additionally, the county is still experiencing a strong project activity as the economic development has continued to field requests for information from companies expressing an interest in relocating and setting up shop here in Rowan County.

Crider said the EDC has heard anecdotally of people going back to work lately, which could make the impact a few weeks from now less severe. He added that businesses can only remain viable amid the current shutdown for so long, so it’s important to get them reopened as soon as it’s feasible to do so.

Surveying businesses has become a global effort among approximately 250 other economic development commissions, Crider said, adding that the various commissions are conducting similar surveys in hopes of discovering data and trends that can be helpful for businesses.

The Rowan EDC plans to send out more surveys every other week or so to continue monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on businesses. In the meantime, the EDC, as well as other organizations like the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, are working to monitor resources being funneled by the federal, state and local governments.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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