March 26, 2020
Columbia wants to know how the coronavirus is affecting local businesses, as city leaders consider support for local businesses amid the virus’s national economic fallout.
If the results of a survey for small business owners posted on the city’s website match national data, it would show local businesses struggling under the impact of lockdowns and self-imposed isolation.
On Tuesday, the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce released numbers from a national survey that showed 91% of respondents reported being impacted by COVID-19. Eighty-eight percent have lost revenue, and 70% half lost more than half of their income.
Even in areas that don’t have shelter-in-place orders, 30% say they have been forced to shut down due to a fall in consumer demand. Of those remaining open, 38% have cut employee hours and 17% have laid off workers.
Columbia’s web poll asks for business owners’ concerns about the pandemic, whether it’s the falloff in customer demand, a lack of income or health concerns. It seeks to find out how coronavirus has disrupted businesses, whether through reduction of hours, sanitation conditions or supply chain disruption.
The survey is especially interested in whether a business has cut back its number of employees and by how much. On Thursday, the state of South Carolina announced a 1,600% increase in unemployment claims in the past week, as thousands of workers have been affected by the ongoing shutdown.
Columbia also hopes to identify businesses’ biggest needs now. The survey asks if they need relief from taxes and utility payments, rent or mortgage, or short-term capital.
City leaders are still considering ways to help small businesses dealing with the economic fallout of the coronavirus, including a statewide shutdown of dining rooms at bars and restaurants. Mayor Steve Benjamin has proposed a $6 million economic stimulus package, including a $500,000 loan program for businesses with 100 employees or less, and a $1 million fund to support loans from banks.