BC Chamber and partners asked businesses to offer feedback on COVID-19 impacts. (BC Chamber)

Closures, revenue, staffing among main impacts of COVID-19 on 90% of B.C. business: survey

Paints ‘dire picture’ of what businesses are experiencing now and in the near future

A survey of B.C. businesses paints a “dire picture” of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on them.

The BC Chamber of Commerce (and its 120-member chamber network) in partnership with Small Business BC, The BC Economic Development Association, and Community Futures BC, launched a survey on March 13 to understand specific impacts B.C. businesses are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and hear their proposed solutions.

As of March 18, almost 8,000 businesses had responded to the survey. The B.C. Chamber of Commerce released the final results March 19 and the data paints a “dire picture of what businesses are experiencing now and what they expect to be facing in the near future.”

The survey found:

  • 90 per cent of businesses are “currently being impacted by COVID-19.”
  • Of those impacted, 83 per cent are seeing a “drop in revenue, business, or deal flow.”
  • 91 per cent anticipate a further “decrease in revenue in the near-term.”

  • 73 per cent of businesses expect their revenues will drop by 50 per cent or more (with nearly a quarter saying revenues will drop by 100 per cent).
  • Half of the respondents say they will be “temporarily shutting down” their offices.
  • 64 per cent of respondents expect to reduce their staff by over half (with a quarter saying they will be reducing their staff by 100 per cent).

“Public health must be the primary concern during the early days of the pandemic,” Val Litwin, CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, says. “We commend the federal and provincial governments for prioritizing the health and safety of its citizens above all else. We have also been reassured that government is strategically and thoughtfully looking at ways to mitigate impacts to businesses of all sizes and are working tirelessly to soften the economic impacts to British Columbians. Businesses in B.C. are saying that a combination of tax cuts, flexibility around tax remittances and enhanced credit access will help them weather this unprecedented storm in the short term.”

The survey revealed that self-employed and/or contract workers are gravely concerned, due to their ineligibility for Employment Insurance.

According to the chamber, one respondent said, “I am the only full-time employee, and I may need to close my business, potentially go bankrupt and lose $100,000 investment. I’ve paid into EI my entire life, except for the last year since starting my business. What services are available to me during this incredibly challenging time?”

The tourism industry and peripheral industries fear they will be particularly hard hit, with some stating they’ve already seen cancellations of 90 per cent of bookings.

“We are worried about bankruptcy if the summer does not go as planned—we really rely on overseas travelers,” one respondent says.

RELATED: ‘Everybody’s in the same boat’: Tourism operators starting to see COVID-19 cancellations

Businesses are saying they need immediate and direct fiscal intervention to mitigate the impacts on their businesses and their employees.

“I need cash in hand and decreased bills soon. Help me and my business, so I can help my staff by keeping them employed,” a respondent says.

The survey results also recommend specific measures that BC businesses would like to see put in place to relieve immediate economic pressures.

The BC Chamber, SBBC, CFBC & BCEDA have already made the following recommendations to government based on survey results:

1. Provide flexibility for tax remittance

  • Extend the April 30 tax deadline (for those who owe) to take pressure off the system and provide relief.
  • Provide a 6-12-month holiday on paying the EHT to put $950 million – $1.9 billion back in the hands of business, so they can stay open and keep workers employed.
  • Remove the PST for six months on every transaction, or at the very least, for select purchases.

2. Allow for delayed property tax payment

  • Work with municipalities to allow business to defer property tax payments to free up revenue.

3. Encourage financial institutions to provide zero interest loans, lines of credit and deferred payment terms

  • Work with banks, credit unions and other lenders such as Community Futures to offer zero interest business loans – with deferred payment terms – backed by government.

4. Enhanced EI access and wage replacement options

5. Provide funding for business to work remotely

  • Create a provincial fund to help businesses operate remotely and in turn, avoid staffing reductions/layoffs. This is also a future-oriented opportunity—as we recover from COVID-19, some will continue working remotely, which will reduce congestion and help with GHG reduction targets going forward.

The federal government introduced a stimulus package totalling $82 billion March 18, including a number of initiatives in categories that businesses flagged in the BC Chamber-led survey, including: providing eligible small businesses a 10 per cent wage subsidy for the next 90 days, up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer; measures to ensure business has access to cash via loan from banks and other financial institutions (including the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada); and extending the tax filing deadline to June 1 and allowing taxpayers to defer tax payments until after August 31 (for amounts that are due after today and before September).

RELATED: Trudeau promises $82B in economic supports in COVID-19 fight

“Small Business BC stands with our community of entrepreneurs and their employees during this difficult time,” says Tom Conway, CEO, Small Business BC, a partner in the survey. “We will continue to advocate on their behalf to government and communities throughout British Columbia. Against the challenging backdrop of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to sustain their vital contribution to the provincial economy. Small businesses form the backbone of our economy here in BC, representing 98 per cent of all businesses and employing 57 per cent of all private sector employees. We want this community to know we are here for them and we recommend they continue to refer to our website for up-to-date information, resources and support.”

Another partner in the survey is Community Futures B.C.

“Community Futures BC and our network of 34 CF offices throughout rural BC has heard loud and clear from SME’s across the province…The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating effect on their businesses, staff, customers and local economies,” says Cheryl Johnson, Executive Director, Community Futures British Columbia. “Many rural businesses are still recovering from devastating wildfires, floods and now forest sector impacts. CF has helped rural small businesses be resilient in the face of economic disruption for over 30 years. And today we are delighted to collaborate with our colleagues to encourage the federal and provincial governments to provide the BC business ecosystem with the supports and relief needed to sustain local economies during this unprecedented time of public health concern.”

Dale Wheeldon, President & CEO, BC Economic Development Association, says, “The survey results provide a good cross-section of small and medium-sized businesses from across British Columbia. It clearly shows that SME’s are already experiencing a significant reduction in business, putting them and their employees at risk. Collectively we need to act now to implement measures like loan guarantees, flexibility with tax payments, development of programs to enhance economic development at the community level – recognizing that not one solution will fit all. BCEDA is a leader in disaster recovery and has led programs in BC, Alberta and the United States. We have already been providing tools and resources to communities and look forward to delivering more with the support of federal and provincial governments.”

RELATED: Many businesses can still carry on, B.C. COVID-19 doctor says

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