Survey reveals COVID-19’s devastating impact on B.C. businesses

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As they lay off staff and cancel projects, companies want the federal and provincial governments to offer more financial, tax and other support

We all know the COVID-19 crisis is bad for business, but a recent survey highlights just how much damage the pandemic has already inflicted on B.C. companies and their employees.

The poll of 1,900 businesses shows that in the past two weeks, about half have suffered revenue plunges of 75 percent or more, while two-thirds have seen revenue fall by at least 50 percent. Respondents included members of the BC Chamber of Commerce, the Business Council of British Columbia and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. The survey—the first in a series of biweekly “pulse checks”—was conducted on the BCMindReader platform with assistance from Mustel Group.

“There’s no doubt governments want to find the right solution for businesses, but our members are saying, Time is of the essence,” said Val Litwin, president and CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “With these survey results, entrepreneurs are sending a clear message to Ottawa and Victoria: they need enhanced supports now because time is running out. Governments must focus on getting subsidies and credits to businesses quickly.”

Among the survey’s other findings: 

  • Nearly one-third of respondents plan to cancel contracts or tenders, or have had them cancelled, while a quarter will defer or cancel capital projects in the next two weeks. 
  • For those companies laying off employees, the average is 43 staff. But because so many B.C. businesses have fewer than 20 employees, the median is much lower, at five. 
  • More than half of respondents worry that they will become insolvent or lack the fiscal capacity to restart.
  • Businesses are trying to pivot, with 23 percent of those polled devoting more effort to online, digital or e-commerce.
  • 55 percent of respondents expect a slow economic rebound in their market, while 14 percent think it will be fast and 31 percent are unsure.

Asked what the federal government can do to help, respondents offered these suggestions:

  • Provide direct payments to affected businesses (56 percent).
  • Immediately reduce rates for employment insurance, company taxes, personal tax, GST, and other government imposed levies or charges (42 percent).
  • Ensure that credit markets and the financial system can keep running (33 percent)
  • Ensure that critical supply chains can function (32 percent).

Their recommendations to the B.C. government:

  • Further reduce tax rates and defer payments facing B.C. businesses and households (57 percent).
  • Consider remedies for businesses unable to pay rent, in collaboration with property owners and tenants (42 percent).
  • Provide direct support to B.C. industry sectors particularly affected by the pandemic (46 percent).

Since the survey results appeared, Ottawa has announced a 75-percent wage subsidy for businesses and other organizations impacted by the crisis.

Affected workers can now apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which provides $500 weekly for up to 16 weeks. Successful applicants who signed up for direct deposit should receive payment in three business days, according to the federal government.