Businesses throughout Prescott and Russell counties are feeling the cash crunch from the COVID-19 crisis.

The United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) Economic Development and Tourism Department, in cooperation with the economic development departments in all eight UCPR municipalities asked business owners and management throughout the counties for their answers in order to gauge what the local business climate is as a result of COVID-19 and to help determine what the needs of the business community are at this time.

The survey was randomly mailed to various businesses and 479, or 39 per cent responded.  The confidence level for the survey is 95 per cent and the margin of error is four per cent.  For most responses, Champlain and Russell townships were excluded because those municipalities conducted their own surveys.

The survey focused on the retail and construction sectors with businesses of 19 employees or less.

Most respondents, at 62 per cent described their situation as “difficult,” while the least amount at seven per cent described their situation as “critical.”  Nineteen per cent said COVID-19 has not impacted their business at all and 13 per cent stated that their business is growing or adapting amid the situation.

Retail, construction, tourism, and arts-related business owners described the situation as critical or difficult while the agricultural, food, administrative, and not-for-profit sectors described their situation as manageable, adaptive, or conducive to growth.

The most common reaction among businesses to the COVID-19 crisis has been reducing hours, laying off staff, seeking short-term financing, or closing temporarily.

In terms of adaptation to the situation, 25 per cent of businesses are offering new services such as home delivery, and 72 per cent of those offering new services plan to continue offering them once the emergency ends.

Some employers have felt positive effects from the emergency and 15 per cent of them have had to hire new employees.  However, 35 per cent have felt negative effects and have had to layoff employees.

The survey identified that the main challenges that the workforce at the businesses is facing are layoffs and getting employees onto Employment Insurance (EI), adaptation to different working methods, and staff who are anxious to begin working again.

The federal and Ontario governments have announced numerous support programs for businesses and workers in recent weeks.  However, forty-three per cent of the businesses that responded to the survey have not made use of these programs.  Out of the businesses that did not use a program, four per cent were unaware that the programs were available, 15 per cent said they were not necessary, and 24 per cent were not eligible.  The agriculture sector was least eligible for federal and provincial programs.

The survey identified that 47 per cent of the entrepreneurs are seeking federal or provincial support and 21 are seeking municipal support.

The respondents indicated that the forms of federal and provincial support they would like to see are wage subsidies, financial assistance with the rental and installation of safety equipment, financial support for seasonal and tourism businesses, training sessions so employees know how to apply and follow health regulations, and ongoing training to ease the transition to online sales.

Tax relief for non-operating businesses, removal of interest on late fee payments, and allowing building inspections to resume, and for building permits to again be issued were the types of assistance the respondents wanted to see from the municipal level.