The Bryan-College Station Chamber of Commerce and Texas A&M’s Private Enterprise Research Center released results of a recent survey of nearly 500 local businesses on Wednesday to provide information and context regarding the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact.
The survey, conducted June 8-16, revealed that 50% of businesses were operating at 80% capacity or higher, with another 36% operating between 40% and 80% capacity. At the time of the survey, 97% of responding businesses were open or had reopened.
Additionally, the survey shows that for 69% of businesses, weekly revenues had decreased as a result of COVID-19. Ten percent reported a revenue increase, and 21% reported no change. Of the businesses and firms reporting decreased revenues, 57% reported a decrease of 50% or less; 43% reported a decrease over 50%, and only 16% reported a decrease of 20% or less.
Chamber president Glen Brewer said in a phone interview that the survey data shows how essential grants and SBA economic disaster loans were in keeping area businesses afloat. The survey shows that 57% of responding firms applied for Paycheck Protection Program grants.
As of June 16, the survey end date, 94% of the 275 business respondents who applied for the PPP grants were successful; the average PPP loan amount for respondents was $152,152, and the median amount was $75,000.
“It’s what has allowed most of our businesses — though not all of them — to reopen,” Brewer said Wednesday afternoon. “If we didn’t have those, it would have been catastrophic, and that’s why I worry so much about a second shutdown.”
Brewer said that those wanting continued economic recovery should be urging adherence to recommended and required health safety guidelines, including mask use in public.
“Because of that, we’re urging people — whether you believe it’s right or not — let’s do everything we can to not have a second shutdown happen. I do think a second shutdown would be much worse than the first one,” Brewer said.
PERC executive director Dennis Jansen and executive associate director Andy Rettenmaier noted Wednesday that the survey, done in the first half of June, came before a surge in cases led Gov. Greg Abbott to again order bars to close and restaurants to reduce maximum capacity from 75% down to 50%.
“I certainly think the survey gives us a glimpse into how local businesses are responding and thinking about this current economic situation,” Jansen said. “The overall economy has been gradually, and perhaps glacially, improving.”
Rettenmaier said that 31% of the responding businesses reported that their workforce changed due to COVID-19. Of these firms, 62% reported an employment decline through furloughs, layoffs, or terminations — and 25% of firms had employees not reporting for work.
“The wholesale and retail trade, and those in the entertainment, accommodation and food service industries have been hit hardest,” Rettenmaier said. Jansen added that the businesses in the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodations and food services industries were operating at an average level of 51% at the time of the survey.
On average, firms and businesses reported that they could survive 15 weeks before closing; more than half of the responding entities estimated they could only survive a business shutdown of 13 weeks or less, Rettenmaier said.
Of the 312 entities responding to the question asking the percentage of a business’s workforce that was working from home, 64% had 0% to 20% of their employees working from home, and 17% had 81% to 100% of their employees working from home. On average, respondents indicated that 28% of their employees were working from home, with industry playing a sizable role in how feasible it is to work remotely.
The survey results, available online, show the dramatic economic dropoff from mid-March through April as the COVID-19-related shutdown took hold and displays the modest recovery in May. Local nonfarm employment was 125,300 in January; by April the total had dropped to 116,900. May saw an increase to 118,700. A similar pattern is seen with inflation-adjusted taxable sales, which declined 16.6% locally between January and April. In May, they rebounded 12.8% relative to April, to $333 million.
The office of the provost at Texas A&M funded the survey; Jansen credited Chad Wootton, the provost office’s associate vice president of external affairs, for his leadership in helping the survey come to life.
Jansen and Rettenmaier’s PERC colleagues Ashley Bullock and Carlos I. Navarro coauthored the survey.
The full 23-page survey report is available on the PERC website at http://perc.tamu.edu/.