Report finds optimistic outlook among Washtenaw County entrepreneurs, despite COVID-19 challenges

This story is part of a series about Washtenaw County businesses' response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Support for this series is provided by Ann Arbor SPARK.

According to a new survey of over 450 Washtenaw County businesses, many local entrepreneurs are starting to feel more certain about their futures despite the continuing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

The Washtenaw County COVID-19 Business Impact Report, released on Monday by Ann Arbor-based entrepreneurial research nonprofit EntryPoint, found that over 90% of business owners surveyed felt they would still be in business in June.

 

The report findings are based on survey results from 459 businesses across Washtenaw County. 76% of the respondents have fewer than 10 employees, and 93% have fewer than 25 employees. EntryPoint released an initial set of survey results last May. The current findings show COVID-19's extended impact on local companies.

 

"Overall, business owners are feeling significantly different than they were at the beginning of our research," says Emily Heintz, EntryPoint founder and managing director. "People simply weren't sure what changes the pandemic would bring. But now we're seeing businesses starting to feel better about where things are headed."

 

Heintz points to one striking finding that she feels signals business owners' optimism: 30% of companies are hiring, up from 17% in May.

 

More broadly, the report also found that total 2020 revenue was down 19% from 2019. While COVID-19 has left no business sector untouched, companies in the hospitality, hotel, restaurant, and service sectors were dealt the hardest blow. They earned 42% less revenue in 2020. Entertainment, events, and sports businesses earned 35% less. Companies in the business and professional services sector were down 28% from 2019.

 

Many local business owners sought financial help to mitigate the economic realities of COVID-19. 71% have applied for loans. Last May, 74% of applicants had been approved for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Since then, approvals have increased to 92%. 24% of those applicants have already had their PPP loans forgiven.

 

"People are expressing relief and feeling quite lucky. So far, none of the businesses that applied for loan forgiveness have been denied," Heintz says.

 

EntryPoint's report also gleaned some intriguing insights into business owners' mindsets. One of the more "interesting surprises" Heintz found is that "remote work is here to stay."

 

50% of businesses surveyed had employees who are operating virtually (or near virtually). 27% said they will continue to work remotely in the future. In contrast, last May 37% of business owners indicated that they felt completely unprepared for shelter-in-place operations.

 

"We'll see a trend toward more downsizing of physical location space as people either don't move back to their former locations, or they reduce the amount of time staff have to spend in the office," Heintz says. "Businesses just seem to be really enjoying the flexibility and productivity that working remotely has given them."

 

She adds that 27% of businesses have expressed that word-of-mouth advertising is the most important way the public can help them thrive.

 

"Things like financial help and advertising from community organizations, policymakers, and economic developers is, of course, critical," Heintz says. "But our business owners told us that business referrals are an impactful way to help them continue to do what they do best: serve their customers and communities."

For more Concentrate coverage of our community's response to the COVID-19 crisis, click here.

 

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of EntryPoint.

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