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Surrey Pulse Survey Shows Business Optimism, Concerns Can’t be Ignored

Surrey – The Surrey Board of Trade has released the results of their third Surrey Pulse Survey today, which gives the only on-the-ground snapshot of how Surrey businesses are doing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are going to see significant changes in optimism and action as a result of the recent release of the BC Economic Recovery Plan,” said Anita Huberman, CEO, Surrey Board of Trade. “This Surrey pulse survey is still important as a starting indicator of what needs to be overcome when the 4 biggest concerns for businesses are staff absences because they cannot offer work from home, not being able to ship goods because of a disrupted supply chain, a decrease in demand for products/services, and shifting to new products/services in order to remain in business.”

“We will need to watch the trend lines from these 4 concerns as the economy re-opens.”

KEY MESSAGES:

RESPONDENT SECTORS AND SIZE

Goods-producing Surrey businesses totaled 30% of total respondents; and service-producing Surrey businesses totaled 70% of all respondents. The largest industries in the survey responses were:

•       Manufacturing – 15.45%

•       Other Sectors – 11.82%

•       Construction – 11.82%

•       Finance & Insurance – 8.18%

Over 67% of respondents indicated having less than 50 employees (down from over 75% in the last two Pulse Surveys), while over 88% indicated having less than 500 employees (compared to 95% in the past surveys). 55% of respondents have less than 20 employees.

COVID-19 IMPACTS ON BUSINESS

Of the survey respondents, none indicated closing their Surrey businesses permanently in this current survey, while 5.26% have temporarily closed. Both these numbers have decreased when compared to January 2021, though the number that have closed may be understated as closed businesses would be less likely to receive and/or respond to this survey. The other respondents are on a continuum in terms of degree of opening.

•       12.63% have partially re-opened;

•       25.26% have mostly or fully re-opened;

•       14.74% have seen their business increased; and,

•       20% have experienced no impact.

While many respondents stated that their business is either maintaining or thriving currently, a quarter of the survey respondents selected the ‘other’ option and provided comments to clarify. In reviewing the comments, many Surrey businesses have experienced a significant reduction in volume and/or revenues, shifted their business models and/or moved to remote working, or reduced staff or staff salaries.

REVENUE CHANGES

While over 23% of respondents have experienced an increase in revenue when compared to February 2020, over 32% have experienced a decline in revenue of 20% or more since last year. This number is down by over 10% since the January 2021 survey.

Almost 14% percent of respondents have seen a decrease in revenue of at least 60%, which is similar to what respondents indicated in January 2021.

SHIFT TO E-COMMERCE OR DIGITAL WORK

The number of respondents that have shifted to 100% digital has doubled since fall 2020, and, in spring 2021, remains similar to January 2021, at over 13%. 50% of businesses reported some degree of shift to digital work, while those that reported no digital work increased slightly to over 38% compared to 31% in January 2021.

STAFFING CHANGES

62% percent of respondents indicated that they are at/or exceeding pre-pandemic levels of full-time staff, up from 44% in the fall and 41% percent in January 2021. There was also a decrease in the number of Surrey businesses that reported that 40% or more of their full-time staff had been reduced.

KEY BARRIERS TO EMPLOYEES RETURNING TO WORK, RETAINING AND RECRUITING EMPLOYEES         

The key barriers to bringing back and/or retaining workers most cited by respondents were employees’ concerns about safety concerns at work and the rising number of virus cases in the community. After this, Surrey businesses cited staffing costs and social distancing requirements as the next greatest barriers in retaining staff. When it comes to getting staff to return to work during the pandemic, Surrey businesses shared that Provincial Health Orders/closures and employee preference to continue working remotely were their next greatest barriers.

The top key challenges to recruiting new staff reported by businesses are not enough skilled labour in their industry, the inability to offer a set work schedule or guaranteed hours of work and ‘other’ (over half of these indicated no recruiting challenges). A lack of skilled labour in the region and competition in their industry were other recruiting challenges reported.

EXTENT OF CERTAIN CHALLENGES

The four biggest areas of concern that businesses reported in response to this question in April 2021 were:

·       Staff absences because they cannot offer work from home;

·       Not being able to ship goods because of a disrupted supply chain;

·       A decrease in demand for their product/service; and,

·       Shifting to new products/services in order to remain in business.

Heightened public fear/caution causing customers to avoid our location/services, a decrease in demand for products/services, disruptions in the services or supplies needs to run the business successfully all remain significant experiences reported by Surrey businesses in April 2021.

USE OF EXISTING GOVERNMENT RELIEF PROGRAMS

The most used government programs continue to be Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS). All others are either not needed or Surrey businesses do not qualify.

USEFULNESS OF TYPES OF ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS

The most popular types of assistance among Surrey businesses are:

1.     General tax credits/cuts (80% believe very or somewhat useful)

2.     Better/more payroll tax breaks (76%)

3.     Reduced interest (70%)

4.     Greater economic stimulus funding like business improvement grants (65%)

The options of least interest to Surrey employers are:

1.     Business counselling (47% not useful at all)

2.     Suspension on loan repayments (41%)

3.     Better/more rent or lease assistance (35%)

EMPLOYEE TRAINING PROGRAMS

In April 2021, while the most frequent training by businesses has been health and safety (67%) and software and computer skills (44.4%), the areas in which they need most help now are mental health/wellness (38.1%), soft skills (38.1%) and technical skills (28.6%).

REMOTE WORKING

While 36% of Surrey businesses’ staff were not working remotely in January, this decreased to 31.8% in April 2021. 38% of businesses had 40% to 100% of their workforce working remotely in April 2021. Of those businesses with remote staff in April 2021, two-thirds (66.7%) expect all staff or a portion (i.e. a hybrid model) to remain working remote after vaccination.

QUESTIONS ABOUT VACCINES & PLANS FOR RECOVERY

Knowing one’s rights as an employer around staff vaccination hesitancy and knowing how to manage a blended staff of vaccinated and non-vaccinated were the two most frequent concerns among businesses. Similarly, uncertainty about their responsibilities as an employer and safety measures to keep in place after staff are vaccinated, were two other less frequent concerns.

When asked about business practices implemented during the pandemic, businesses are most likely to maintain practices related to local purchasing, mental health training, remote working and physical barriers, while dropping those related to use of PPE, limited capacity and reduced hours. Most respondents indicated that the current vaccine rollout has not had an impact on business practices yet.

EXPECTATIONS ON RETURNING TO PRE-COVID STAFF AND REVENUE LEVELS

When asked when they expect business to return to pre-COVID staffing and revenue levels, 33% of Surrey businesses indicated that they were now back to pre-pandemic levels and another 30% expected this to be the case within the second half of 2021. One-third of respondents indicated that they do not expect to reach pre-pandemic levels of staffing and revenue until at least 2022, while another almost 2% indicated that they do not expect to ever reach the same levels.

Of those who had responded to both the January 2021 survey and the October 2020 survey, 23% are feeling more optimistic than they were in January 2021, while 20% are feeling more pessimistic. 55% of respondents to both surveys are feeling similarly to when they last responded to the survey.

FULL REPORT

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