The Central Coast Coalition of Chambers has released results from their bi-monthly survey on COVID-19 impacts to business. Nearly four months after the State gave the green-light for most businesses to fully reopen, our communities have seen indoor mask mandates make a comeback and students from kindergarten to college return to campus.

The most recent survey ran from September 20-October 4 and respondents were asked to share their current business conditions, greatest concerns, and child care considerations among other items.

“The resiliency of our community to keep advancing in the face of adversity and uncertainty is a true testament to the character of our Central Coast business community,” said Jim Dantona, Chair of the Central Coast Coalition of Chambers. “As businesses continue working to get back to pre-pandemic levels, the Central Coast Coalition of Chambers will continue to advocate for legislative policies to help aid in their recovery from this pandemic.”

After weathering a historic gubernatorial election, government mandates and general uncertainty regarding the Delta variant, the business community has remained flexible and undeterred amidst this new phase of the pandemic. Nearly 53% of respondents are reporting good or excellent business conditions and 33% are reporting fair or neutral conditions — a drop from June, but much better than conditions faced in February of this year. Additionally, 36% of businesses are reporting an increase in revenue — a slight increase from June.

Though these are positive signs, the business community overall is struggling more than it was at the beginning of the Statewide reopening in June. General sentiment from the business community remains unsure about the future with 63% of respondents feeling that it will take at least six months to more than a year for the economy to recover. This number is similar to sentiment felt by the community in February 2021. Optimism about the economy rebounding within 2-3 months dropped to 19% — a 26% decrease from June’s survey.

The current challenges posed by COVID have remained generally unchanged with added expenses to mitigate public safety, supply chain disruptions, difficulty staffing businesses and increased workload listed as the top four main concerns. 

“Though employers are experiencing challenges and facing uncertainty, it is encouraging to see our community working diligently towards recovery,” said Gina Fitzpatrick, Paso Robles Chamber President/CEO. “We are here to assist our local businesses by providing information, assistance and additional resources to help our communities make it through this pandemic and out the other side.”

Staffing shortages continue to be a major challenge for employers with 55% of businesses reporting that they plan to hire within the next month, yet 86% of respondents have reported it being difficult or very difficult to recruit qualified candidates.

On a similar note, the remote work environment many employers and staff had to adapt to is thinning as 52% of respondents report working 100% in person and only 5% of employees remain entirely remote. Those with children say that if schools return to hybrid or remote learning, 50% of the respondents will either have to quit their jobs or partially pull back on work commitments.

According to a Cuesta College funded study, nearly 1,400 parents in SLO County alone are unable to enter the workforce due to family obligations. When businesses are able to make simple changes to their policies and procedures, this untapped workforce could increase the gross regional product of SLO County by more than $108 million annually. Taking into consideration parents facing similar situations throughout Santa Barbara County, and those who rely on flexible work accommodations, our local economies could see a major boost through regional family-friendly workplace policies.

In an effort to help businesses attract and retain a strong, inclusive workforce, the SLO Chamber has launched the new, free Family-Friendly Workplace Accelerator Program to provide SLO County businesses with resources and support. The program aims to educate businesses on how they can become more family-friendly to attract and retain employees without necessarily making a large financial investment.

Though employers continue to face on-going challenges with mandates, staffing shortages and family-friendly accommodations, the business community is handling the newest phase of this pandemic by trekking forward, looking toward solutions and coming out the other side even stronger.