Survey: Businesses in SC are at the ‘end of the rope’ from COVID-19
Facing a heap of challenges as they decide how or whether to reopen amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, South Carolina business owners are reporting that low demand and an in ability to cover employees’ pay are among their greatest threats.
But they also face other hurdles, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce found this week in a new, preliminary survey of so far more than 3,000 businesses — a majority of them small — where owners shared concerns about employees being afraid to come to work, a lack of coronavirus testing, a lack of access to childcare and restrictions placed on their businesses by local governments.
“Most businesses have appreciated the governor’s ... approach to kind of slowly shut things or slow the economy down with the stay-at-home order,” Ted Pitts, head of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, told The State early Wednesday afternoon before he met with a panel of state business leaders tasked with evaluating how best to reopen the state’s economy.
“What you’re seeing now, specifically small businesses, they are at the end of the rope. We’ve got to open the economy back up and safely.”
Last month, Gov. Henry McMaster closed most stores and manufacturing and other larger companies suspended production lines as positive COVID-19 cases continued to rise. McMaster lifted some of those restrictions this month, allowing retail stores and other “nonessential” businesses to slowly reopen their doors. However, restaurants remain closed to inside dining, and salons and gyms are still closed under his orders despite legislative pressure to reopen and let owners who have been hit financially get back to work.
McMaster told reporters this month he believes the state’s economy will be “humming” by June.
“The survey is an indication that small business is hurting and needs for us to find a way to get back to some sense of normalcy,” said Pitts, who presented the survey to McMaster’s advisory group, Accelerate South Carolina, that will come up with recommendations for the governor to get the state’s economy back running.
But a new sense of normalcy will certainly come with some headaches, the chamber’s survey shows.
Though nearly 33% of those surveyed said they were not planning a significant change to their business because of the health crisis, nearly the same number of businesses — 995 — said they plan to reduce services or products
‘‘ THE SURVEY IS AN INDICATION THAT SMALL BUSINESS IS HURTING AND NEEDS FOR US TO FIND A WAY TO GET BACK TO SOME SENSE OF NORMALCY.
Ted Pitts, head of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce
to keep employees and customers safe.
In some cases, businesses turned to employee furloughs or complete layoffs.
The survey found nearly 55% of owners did not have to do either. But more than 45% did, the same report found.
About 29% of business owners said in the next three months they’re sure they could bring back all of their employees, compared with nearly 11% who said they could bring back 75% and 5% who said they either could bring back half or fewer than 50% of staff.
A lot of that return will be entirely based on money as especially small businesses continue to take financial hits.
Two rounds of federal legislation — the Payroll Protection Program — doled out billions of dollars to small S.C. businesses.
But the first pot quickly dried up and the second round could dry up just as fast.
In the survey, more than 35% of business owners said they had received some type of federal loan or other assistance. But another roughly 30% said they still had not received or were still waiting on loans through the federal government or loan related to COVID-19. In the same survey, more than 15% of those surveyed said they knew about the loan programs but did not pursue them.
Almost 4% of business owners surveyed said they did not know relief programs were available.
McMaster’s task force is set to offer clear guidance and recommendations to the governor to reopen businesses in May.
Pitts said he already has some ideas, including crafting a proposal for the Legislature to consider that offers businesses liability protection.
“Ultimately, we need for folks who are older and (or) have compromised immune systems to stay at home,” Pitts said. “(But we need the) rest of society to start moving around in a safe fashion, following CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines.”