The Algoma Workforce Investment Corp. wants to continue to assess the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on local businesses.
Earlier this month, in partnership with the City of Sault Ste. Marie, it launched a third survey to ask businesses about their current status, what programs they are utilizing and what they need to succeed.
The uptake has been much slower than the previous two surveys, said Jonathan Coulman, executive director of AWIC.
“Certainly we’ve had a slower response than the first two survey’s and part of that speaks for itself,” Coulman said.
To date, across Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma only about 130 responses have been received. That’s well below the first survey which garnered more than 500 responses or the second which saw more than 200 responses.
He says the slower response could be as a result of a number of things.
“Some businesses may not feel they have a lot of new information to share and in other cases employers are doing what they can and completing another survey may be burdensome,” he said.
There’s also the issue of survey fatigue and the fact that business owners just can’t predict the future of their business right now.
“No one has a crystal ball and the reality is they can plan for now but they can’t plan too far ahead into the future,” Coulman said.
Tom Vair, city deputy CAO of community development and enterprise services, said the city is continuing to work with businesses to help them qualify and apply for new programs that have recently been made available.
Data from a community wide survey will also help the city determine which sectors continue to be the hardest hit or are not rebounding at the same rate.
“It really helps us identify the supports that are needed and helps us determine what we can do to help,” Vair said.
The online survey now underway is a follow-up survey designed to get updated information about business needs. The information will be used to lobby all levels of government to aid in post pandemic recovery.
Greater survey participation number will provide better quality information to analyze and assess and allow AWIC to provide better data and breakdown that data by sector, Coulman said.
“Small numbers don’t provide good data to break down by either sector or size of business. Bigger is always better and it gives us a much clearer picture of what is going on in our community and the communities around us,” he said.
Putting together a clear picture helps government better understand what programs are required, or which of the existing programs are working, he said.
Vair said his staff has been continuing to have one-on-one dialogues with local businesses and assisting where needed.
“I urge businesses to examine the new NOHFC programs. Many of them are retroactive so we can go back to March to capture some of those expenses incurred as a result of COVID,” Vair said.
He anticipates the restaurant industry is undergoing another phase of change as the weather cools down and patios will soon be shut down.
The city has extended patio licences until Oct. 30 and is working with several restaurant owners individually that will be impacted by the shut down.
“Several are looking at pick up and take out options to help them through the critical times,” he said.
The survey will remain open until Oct. 31 and business owners are urged to take 10 minutes to complete it.
“Good data really helps us better understand what is going on in our community,” Coulman said. “Everyone is in touch with what employers are going through but this is a direct way to have employers have their voices heard.”
Businesses have been asked to participate in two earlier surveys throughout the COVID crisis.
The last poll concluded that 70 per cent of the 145 respondents continued to consider their business to be at high or medium risk as a result of the coronavirus. The first survey was completed by 622 businesses.
High impact is classified as a risk of closure and medium impact is defined as having a significant financial impact. The survey showed a 40 per cent reduction in the overall workforce with certain sectors being hit harder than others.
The first survey also showed that the impact of the pandemic locally was similar to that of both provincial and national results.
The data did indicate that business owners were relying on various relief programs offered by the government.
The most recent survey for employers in Sault Ste. Marie, East Algoma and Superior East can be found at https://awic.ca/covid-19-surveys .
Information will assess how the situation has evolved since the beginning of the pandemic and how businesses are experiencing the additional challenges and changes as emergency measures are being lifted.
It also seeks information on program funding received and how the money was used and what needs are anticipated in the future.