In a survey of 765 Whatcom County businesses, about half reported being closed, 405 said they had laid off workers since the coronavirus outbreak began, and 195 said that they will need to lay off workers in the next two to four weeks if the economic situation doesn’t improve.
The survey, conducted by the Port of Bellingham’s Regional Economic Partnership (REP), collected responses between March 26 and April 14. Nearly half the respondents (337) were in the services sector, which is significant because that sector often requires in-person meetings or appointments and may be disproportionately impacted by the stay-at-home order, according to REP’s report on the survey. The report’s authors also noted that results should be interpreted carefully, as responses weren’t balanced across sectors or geographic areas. Thirty-two businesses from Blaine and Birch Bay responded to the survey.
The county plans to use the survey to help chart a path to recovery, county executive Satpal Sidhu said in a news release.
In the survey, 51.6 percent of respondents said their business was open in some fashion. In the service, construction, retail, recreation, tourism and marine sectors, more businesses reported being closed than open. In the manufacturing, technology, agriculture, forestry and public agency sectors, respondents reported that more businesses were open than closed.
About 450 respondents provided an estimate of losses incurred during the Covid-19 outbreak if business goes “back to normal” by May 15, which state and local health departments say will not happen. In total, those businesses estimated that they would incur more than $28 million in losses, an average of $63,112 per business, by mid-May.
Of the survey respondents, 204 said their business had the ability to allow staff to work from home, 410 said they did not have that ability and 180 had instituted a work-from-home policy.
The survey also asked businesses about the impact of restrictions at the northern border. About two-thirds said they haven’t been impacted by border closures, while many of the remaining businesses said the restrictions could impact them significantly. Nearly one quarter of respondents said that 25 percent or more of their revenue comes from Canadian customers.
What would help?
Respondents said the following government actions would be most helpful to their businesses: expanding and streamlining small business loan programs, a moratorium or cancelation of B&O taxes and expanding unemployment insurance eligibility.
“The need for relief and assistance is immense and it is critical to get direct cash transfers and grants to businesses in need as quickly as possible,” said Don Goldberg, port director of economic development.
The report on the survey’s results arrived at the following conclusions, among others:
• Businesses in Whatcom County need direct cash transfers and grants as soon as possible.
• Traditional tools for restoring the county’s economy have so far been insufficient.
• Loans and additional debt are not helpful to many small businesses – many reported carrying a high debt load before the outbreak – though some businesses will take on more debt if that’s their only option.
• More tools need to be made available for different business types, operations and industries such as sole proprietors, agriculture, fishing (including tendering and processing) and other sectors that rely heavily upon contract workers.
The Port of Bellingham’s full 10-page report is available online at bit.ly/2WdbCD0.