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May 12, 2021

Survey: 42% of North County business still have declining revenues

Photo | Grant Welker Main Street in downtown Fitchburg

The results of a new spring survey of North Central Massachusetts businesses shows improvements for local businesses still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, as well as lingering impacts.

The survey conducted by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce received 187 responses during April. This new survey, being released publicly on Thursday, was the third in a series conducted by the chamber since the start of the pandemic.

In the most recent polling, 50% of the businesses and organizations reported losses in 2020 when compared to 2019, with nearly 20% reporting losses of 50% or more, according to a release from the chamber. This was a modest improvement over the previous survey in October, where nearly 64% reported losses. When asked about the first quarter of 2021, nearly 42% reported losses. 

Nearly 17% of respondents estimated they could stay operational on current cash flow and reserves for six months or less; versus 25% in the previous survey conducted in the fall. Some businesses noted falling behind on rent and other bills, while the vast majority reported increased costs due to additional sanitation or shifting operations online.

There have also been challenges with employees, according to the survey, as 38% percent of the businesses responded they had difficulty getting employees to return to work citing health and safety concerns, current unemployment, child care and adult care as the top reasons.

But businesses are slowly opening up, according to the survey, with 56% of the respondents indicating they were completely open, representing an increase from the 50% who reported they were open in the fall. Of those closed, the majority responded they were planning to reopen (76%) while the others reported that they were unsure if they would be able to reopen. In comparison, during the fall survey 69% responded that they planned to reopen, 23% responded that they were unsure and 7.7% responded that they were closed for good.

The survey found programs to reduce layoffs, such as the federal Payroll Protection Program, was the top response when businesses were asked how they were mitigating the impact of COVID-19, followed by reduction in expenses and grants from federal, state and local sources.

The survey was conducted by the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce in partnership with the MassHire North Central Workforce Board, the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission, NewVue Communities and many of the cities and towns in North Central Massachusetts. 

Respondents reflected the top industries in the region including healthcare, manufacturing, retail, food and beverages, financial services, education and agriculture among others. Although the survey results included large businesses, the vast majority of respondents would be considered small businesses by federal standards with less than 500 employees and gross revenues less than $10 million per year. 

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