The Central Coast Coalition of Chambers has released results from their bi-monthly survey on COVID-19 impacts to businesses. Since May 2020, more than 3,100 businesses between San Miguel and Solvang have responded, allowing the Coalition to track sentiment and changes over the past year.
The most recent bi-monthly survey ran from April 12-23, with Santa Barbara County moving into the Orange Tier April 21, 2021. Respondents were asked to share their business conditions, greatest needs and concerns, childcare and vaccine confidence among other things.
Businesses report highest levels of optimism since March 2020
When asked about general sentiment, 41.95% of respondents reported having an optimistic view that the economy will bounce back within 2-3 months and be stronger than it was pre-COVID. This is nearly a 20% jump since February, in which only 22.83% of respondents said they felt optimistic about the future. Approximately half (50.24%) of respondents still feel unsure, however this is a 13.5% decrease in uncertainty from February.
Improving conditions on the ground
Nearly half (49.5%) of all businesses say their current business conditions are good or excellent, with 33.82% reporting fair/neutral conditions. In April, respondents’ reporting excellent/good conditions is two and a half times higher when compared to this time last year (18.93%). While 16.66% are still reporting poor/catastrophic conditions, that is 12% down from February’s survey where 29.01% reported facing dire conditions.
In another promising sign, 23.89% of businesses reported a revenue increase, a significant jump from February and an all time high from May 2020 where only 4.4% of respondents reported any increase. During the first months of the pandemic, more than half (52.03%) of all businesses reported a revenue decrease of at least 50%. As of April 2021, nearly one year later, that number has dropped to 25.35%. Additionally, 68.87% of businesses reported being approved for either the Paycheck Protection Program or CA Small Business Relief Grant.
“For the first time since we began these surveys, businesses are reporting high levels of optimism in overall conditions and outlook,” said Jim Dantona, Chair of the Central Coast Coalition of Chambers. “We knew it would be a long and challenging road, but we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Now our community needs to stay the course and focus on getting vaccinated and staying vigilant so we can return to normal.”
How businesses are still feeling the effects
The top three changes businesses reported in April were canceled events (57.35%); added expenses to mitigate public safety risks (50.98%); and increased workload (37.25%). Though many businesses are still facing challenges in reopening, 51% of respondents say they are planning to hire within the next month — a 15% increase compared to February. The vast majority (90%) of those new positions are likely to be primarily or entirely in-person, which is reflective of the reopening of more businesses that rely on face-to-face interactions.
“We continue to hear that advocating for business friendly policies is the best way we can support our members,” said Erica Crawford, CEO of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce. “The Coalition of Chambers will continue to champion legislation at the local, state and national level to help businesses across our region be successful through this challenging time.”
Vaccine confidence is high among our business community
Over the past year, local businesses have invested millions of dollars to protect employees and customers, while dealing with unpredictable openings and closings, capacity limitations and other economic disruptions. While these efforts have helped keep our community safe — the only way to get completely back to normal is if many more SLO County residents get vaccinated.
With COVID vaccines becoming available to any adult at the start of April, we have seen a significant shift from those planning to get the vaccine to actually getting it. Nearly 71% of those surveyed have already received one or both doses of vaccine with more than 21% of employers saying they will encourage their staff to get vaccinated before coming back to work. While 11.5% of those surveyed said they do not plan to get vaccinated, that is down nearly 7% from February (18.37%).