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Among the findings in two new national surveys: companies in downtown cores have been hit harder than their rural peers

For businesses in B.C. and across the country, two new surveys reveal a slow but steady recovery from COVID-19. But thanks to the pandemic’s impact on office life and global tourism, urban companies face an especially tough battle.

Almost 60 percent of Canadian businesses that laid off staff during the pandemic are planning to rehire in the next three months, according to a June survey by payroll software firm Wagepoint. With online research community Asking Canadians, the B.C.-headquartered company polled 300 English-speaking owners, CEOs and managers of small businesses with two to 99 employees.

Twenty percent of survey respondents were in B.C., compared to 50 percent in Ontario, 23 percent in the Prairies and 7 percent in the Atlantic provinces. The poll covered a wide range of industries, such as construction and skilled trades, IT and technology, manufacturing, and retail, hospitality and finance.

As the pandemic struck, 40 percent of survey respondents reduced their head count temporarily or permanently, while 44 percent cut hours and compensation. Seventy percent of companies with 10 or more employees made those changes, versus 57 percent for businesses with fewer than 10 staff.

Layoffs peaked in March, which saw 60 percent of the total for the year, Wagepoint found. But the companies polled had rehired 55 percent of laid-off employees by June.

Life’s rough in the big city

Nationwide, 66 percent of the roughly 5,100 companies represented in the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s Small Business Recovery Dashboard were fully open as of August 19. Meanwhile, 40 percent were at or above normal staffing, and 28 percent were at or above normal revenue. (Those numbers had barely moved since two weeks earlier, when they stood at 63 percent, 39 percent and 26 percent, respectively.)

By comparison, 60 percent of B.C. businesses were fully open as of August 19, 36 percent were fully staffed, and 29 percent had normal sales. 

The CFIB also noted that downtown cores have become “spending deserts.” Just 22 percent of businesses in large urban areas report normal sales for this time of year, compared to 37 percent for their counterparts in rural areas.

“Typically, we wouldn’t expect to see businesses in urban centres struggling to find customers,” CFIB executive vice-president Laura Jones said in a statement. “But with downtown offices empty and international tourism dead, these businesses are really hurting and more at risk of permanent closure.”