The Central Coast Coalition of Chambers has released results from their bi-monthly survey on COVID-19 impacts to business. 14 months after the COVID-19 pandemic forced our lives to a sudden halt — and the term “new normal” became our new normal — a majority of businesses are finally able to be open without restrictions and begin the road to recovery. 

The most recent survey ran from June 21-July 7, opening nearly one week after the State’s Beyond the Blueprint recovery plan went into effect on June 15. Respondents were asked to share their business conditions, greatest concerns, and plans for the future among other items.

“The State reopening has been crucial to helping small businesses get back on their feet and begin working again at pre-pandemic levels,” said Jim Dantona, Chair of the Central Coast Coalition of Chambers. “As our business community is back doing what each of them do best, the Coalition of Chambers will continue to advocate for business friendly policies that will aid in their recovery.”

Through multiple closures, tier changes and so much uncertainty over the past several months, the business community is now more optimistic than ever amidst the new rules allowing full reopenings. 45% of respondents stated that they were optimistic about the future and think the economy will rebound within 2-3 months. This is a stark contrast when compared to general sentiment from May 2020 with only 17% of respondents feeling optimistic and 64% feeling unsure about how the economy will be impacted for the next 6-12 months.

In another sign of positive shifts, 65% of businesses reported that their business conditions were either good or excellent, a 46% increase from May 2020 — indicating that the economy is slowly but surely rebounding with help from both the community choosing to eat and shop local and tourists making their return to San Luis Obispo.

Though top business concerns have remained generally unchanging during the pandemic, the difference of one year has shifted the business community’s concerns from a more widespread national focus to that of a focused local one. In May of last year, the top three concerns for businesses were: negative impact on job/business, not knowing how long the situation will last and the impact on the US economy. The most recent survey results showed that the top three current concerns for businesses are: overall public health, negative impact on job/business and the local economy.

“Though our city’s greatest concern is the local economy, the majority of our business owners are optimistic about the future with nearly 85% reporting good or excellent business conditions,” said Josh Cross, Atascadero Chamber President/CEO. “We’re glad to see things moving in the right direction, and our next step is focusing on helping our community fill open positions to help keep our business community thriving.”

Thankfully, a major boost for the local economy came with the distribution of vaccines for those 12 and older. On track with California which has 61% of the entire state fully vaccinated and another 9% partially vaccinated, the San Luis Obispo business community is polling at an approximate 70% vaccination rate.

The higher the number of vaccinated residents, the sooner the County will be able to get back to a pre-covid “normal”, though, the workforce may be looking at the aforementioned “new normal”. Hybrid work became a staple to help businesses get through the pandemic and that trend is not likely to end any time soon, if ever. 46% of respondents report still working remotely in some form or another, with the rest working completely in-person. This is only a slight decrease from April where 52% of respondents said they were working from home.

In less positive news, businesses are also reporting major staffing shortages that have only gotten worse since the reopening. Last April, just about half of businesses reported they were planning to hire new staff within the next month and in June that number jumped to 64% with 82% of those businesses stating they were having trouble finding qualified candidates — a challenge exacerbated by the difficulties of the pandemic.

Though businesses are still facing new and ever-changing challenges stemming from the pandemic, the community’s overall sentiment toward reopening and the future is hopeful, positive, and one ready to get back to business.