Report reveals optimistic outlook among Washtenaw County entrepreneurs, despite challenges from COVID-19
According to a new survey of more than 450 businesses in Washtenaw County, many local entrepreneurs are starting to feel more confident about their future despite the lingering challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Washtenaw County COVID-19 Business Impact Report, published Monday by an entrepreneurial research organization based in Ann Arbor Access point, found that over 90% of business owners surveyed believed they would still be in business in June.
The report’s findings are based on the results of a survey of 459 businesses in Washtenaw County. 76% of respondents have less than 10 employees and 93% have less than 25 employees. EntryPoint published a initial set of survey results last May. Current results show the widespread impact of COVID-19 on local businesses.
“Overall, business owners feel very different from what they were when we started our research,” says Emily Heintz, Founder and CEO of EntréePoint. “People just weren’t sure what changes the pandemic would bring. But now we’re seeing businesses start to feel better about the direction of things.”
Heintz points to a striking finding which she says indicates the optimism of business leaders: 30% of companies are hiring, up from 17% in May.
More generally, the report also found that total revenue for 2020 was down 19% from 2019. While COVID-19 has not left any business sector untouched, companies in the sectors of the hospitality, hospitality, catering and services have suffered the hardest blow. They earned 42% less revenue in 2020. Entertainment, events and sports businesses earned 35% less. Companies in the business and professional services sector decreased by 28% compared to 2019.
Many local business owners have requested financial assistance to ease the economic realities of COVID-19. 71% requested loans. As of May, 74% of applicants had been approved for the Paycheck Protection Program (P3). Since then, approvals have increased to 92%. 24% of these applicants have already had their PPP loans canceled.
“People are expressing their relief and feeling pretty lucky. So far, none of the companies that have requested a loan forgiveness have been turned down,” Heintz says.
The EntréePoint report also gleaned some interesting insight into the mindset of business owners. One of the “most interesting surprises” Heintz found is that “remote work is here to stay”.
50% of the companies surveyed had employees who operate virtually (or almost virtually). 27% said they would continue to work remotely in the future. In contrast, last May, 37% of business owners said they did not feel at all prepared for shelter-in-place operations.
“We’ll see a trend for more physical space reduction as people don’t go back to their old location or reduce the time staff have to spend in the office,” Heintz says. “Businesses seem to really appreciate the flexibility and productivity that remote working has given them.”
She adds that 27% of businesses said word-of-mouth was the most important way for the public to help them thrive.
“Things like financial aid and advertising from community organizations, policymakers and business developers are, of course, essential,” Heintz says. “But our business leaders have told us that business referrals are an effective way to help them continue to do what they do best: serve their customers and their communities.”
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. It can be reached at [email protected].
Photos courtesy of EntréePoint.