Staff with the economic development and tourism department of the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) conducted a week-long survey of businesses throughout the region to determine the effect of the COVID-19 situation, including the provincial and federal government’s pandemic control measures, on their operations. About 1000 copies of the survey went out with close to 500 responses coming back.
The survey’s conclusions are that the pandemic situation had a strong impact on local businesses but many were able to adapt and continue operating, though a few had to shut down temporarily, while others felt little or no effect on their operations
“It’s like being in a storm,” said Olivier Berthiaume, survey project leader. “First they are hit by the surge. Now they are in the eye of the storm, when it’s calm and they can prepare for a second surge if it comes. They’ll be more prepared now to face a crisis.”
Berthiaume cautioned that the survey results provide a “snapshot view” of the situation during the period of time when the business owners were asked to respond. The problem is to avoid making too broad an assumption about what the survey results mean.
When the survey began, the construction industry and the tourism and recreation sector were the ones hit hardest by pandemic restrictions on non-essential businesses. Most farmers found the situation “manageable” while food service industry operators were affected only a little or not at all.
At the time of the survey, the federal government was just starting to roll out its series of aid programs for various groups, ranging from senior citizens and families to large and small businesses and the agricultural sector. One question in the survey asked local business owners what kind of government aid, both local and provincial or federal, could provide to help them weather the crisis. Most of the answers given, from financial aid to deferment of property taxes and other business fees, were in the process of becoming reality soon after the survey period ended.
Berthiaume noted that a follow-up survey would be worth doing to see how local businesses have fared after the aid programs took effect. A second survey could also show whether more businesses were able to adapt to the pandemic situation, including taking more of their operation online, and also how some of them “bounced back” after the provincial government started to lift some of its restrictions on non-essential service businesses.
UCPR staff are forwarding results of the survey to their counterparts in the economic development departments of all eight member municipalities, and also to provincial and federal officials.
“They’ve all said that the document will be useful to them,” said Berthiaume, adding the information will assist local and senior governments with evaluating the success of aid programs for business during the pandemic and what revisions might be needed for these programs should a similar situation arise in the future.
“Our own recommendation,” said Carole Lavigne, UCPR economic development and tourism director, “would be to keep alert. Be open-minded and able to adapt to change.”