By Trevor Busch
As Alberta’s pandemic restrictions loosen and the economy begins to revive, the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce (TDCC) is encouraging citizens to spend their dollars close to home to help jumpstart a local recovery.
“We want to support local businesses whether they are trying to reopen or are remaining closed with valuable daily updates either by Facebook, email or our website,” said TDCC president Joanne Sorenson. “Our office is also going to use this time to update our material on these platforms so that they will be valuable either to visitors or local residents.”
In late May, the Alberta Chambers of Commerce received a report and survey it had commissioned on the impact of COVID-19 on Alberta businesses, and the outlook is far from positive.
Almost all (90 per cent) businesses reported that COVID-19 is negatively impacting their business, with six-in-ten (62 per cent) saying the impact is ‘significantly’ negative.
However, another month into dealing with COVID-19, there has been a seven-point decline in those reporting a ‘significantly’ negative impact.
Almost all businesses continue to report a decline in their revenues from both COVID-19 and low oil prices. But it is clear the larger impact is from COVID-19 with — again in May — over half (53 per cent) saying revenues have fallen by 50 per cent or more. The businesses hardest hit by COVID-19 — reporting a 50 per cent or more decline in revenues —continue to be smaller with five or less employees (May 61 per cent; April 65 per cent).
“The Taber and District Chamber of Commerce is such a small chamber we really have to rely on our surrounding chambers and the Alberta Chamber of Commerce for support and resources,” said Sorenson. “I know that Anne (Jensen, office manager) shares whatever information she comes across to our membership to help them in any way we can during these difficult times.”
Fully one-third (33 per cent) of newer businesses report they could not pay their rent, continuing to be significantly higher than more established businesses. However, there tended to be increases registered compared to last month regardless of time in business.
Businesses in May still expected the most significant impact of COVID-19 over two weeks would be decreased sales, this has declined by 14 points (from 72 per cent to 58 per cent). And, as the economy is starting to reopen, there are also fewer businesses expecting to have to reduce staff hours/staff or that contracts or tenders will be cancelled. However, one-third (33 per cent) are expecting increased operating costs, double the results from April (17 per cent).
Overall, four-in-ten businesses reported they were required to temporarily close as a result of COVID-19. However, there were significant differences by size and sector — with tertiary/professional and smaller businesses significantly more likely to have had to close.
While many Albertan businesses remain in a weakened financial situation, there have been indications of some ‘green shoots’. Businesses appear a bit more confident in May than they were in April that they will survive the impact of COVID-19. Nine-in-ten now feel it is likely they will continue operating once the COVID-19 outbreak is over, with 61 per cent saying it is ‘very’ likely (up from 87 per cent, and 57 per cent, respectively, in April).
Businesses continue to have a varied response to the programs available. However, there have been increases compared to April in the number of businesses reporting they have applied and received a benefit/money.
Despite government support programs and the economy starting to re-open, most businesses continue to expect a slow pace of economic recovery.
Most businesses (80 per cent) continue to be pessimistic and expect a slow recovery, with a six-point increase since April in those expecting a slow economic rebound in their markets.
While the prospects still remain relatively grim, Sorenson encouraged residents to help out local business in any way they can.
“I would like to thank all of the Taber and surrounding residents in supporting and continuing to support local businesses,” said Sorenson. “This is the only way they we can survive is by your continued support. Please remember the donation they made to your kid’s hockey or soccer team or your curling bonspiel or golf tournament. Support them now when they need you the most.”