UWO hosts review of survey results on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses

Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 5:07 PM CST
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - Throughout the last nine months, UW-Oshkosh has been surveying thousands of Wisconsin businesses to monitor the impact of COVID-19.

So far, 270 businesses have responded to the December survey.

Those businesses are reporting a combined total loss of almost $800,000.

Since April, organizers have been able to confirm more than 80 businesses involved in the survey have shut down permanently.

Despite many businesses still anticipating future economic loses, more are confident they will be able to survive.

“Businesses now are much more optimistic about their long-term future than they were at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Jeffrey Sachse Interim Director for UWO’s Center for Customized Research and Services (CCRS). “Businesses are simply continuing to do more with less, and continue to do so, especially given the challenging hiring environment we continue to see.”

Hiring has been limited by changes to recruitment practices and people leaving the labor force, often due to health concerns or childcare needs.

The survey findings show smaller businesses struggled more to get financial assistance in the beginning, lacking strong banking relationships with lenders and the like.

“At least we saw in the survey that that programs like PPP didn’t touch those businesses, because those business owners did not know that they were actually eligible for assistance. And if they applied for assistance they were often told that, well, that program had expired,” said Sachse. “And so again we’re continuing to see for example, business owners expressing interest in applying for assistance but finding now that there’s very little assistance available.”

Though congressional leaders are working on a new federal pandemic relief package, it’s unclear if the same problems will persist should another package get passed.

“The question remains, whether that information and whether that assistance is going to get into the hands of the businesses that need it the most,” said Sachse.

Findings also show restaurants, the hospitality industry, and those who rely on larger groups have taken the biggest hit.

Many in hospitality anticipated activity to resume in 2021 but are still seeing sluggish reservation activity well into next year.

“They’re not being booked up for a considerable period of time just understanding when, when the population will be medically in a position that they can convene in larger groups,” said Barb LaMue, President and CEO of New North.

Sachse notes the predicted future financial struggle of some of these businesses are more market driven, not necessarily resulting from business restrictions.

“Very little of this actually related to the governor’s safer at home orders, and other restrictions on business activity,” said Sachse. “This is simply largely a response to the marketplace and a prediction of sorts of how long this pandemic will be with us in the market.”

The belief is that the vaccine distribution will encourage more consumer activity, it’s just a matter of when it will make an impact.

“We can’t really expect economic activity to, like, start to approach normal levels until after the vaccine distribution begins to impact the community spread significantly,” said Dr. Chad Cotti, UWO Economics Department Chair.

The group plans to release full December results in January, and will continue the survey into 2021.

“It’s been a really interesting process to document, because we have tremendous resilience in our business community,” said Sachse. “But as that business community now shifts from survivability to recovering, the thing at least in my mind which will be a challenge is whether those businesses will continue to try and find the new strategies and innovations that might lead them to a faster recovery.”

Get more data and results from the surveys HERE.

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