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Chamber shares results of Fall 2020 Business Survey

Sep 30, 2020 12:57PM ● By Editor
By Jim Boyd, Executive Director of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce - September 30, 2020

We have just finished our Fall 2020 Business Health Survey for Cook County. We received 76 responses, which represents roughly 20 percent of Cook County businesses, so a good sampling from which it is reasonable to draw some conclusions. The responses also appear to represent a good sampling of business sectors and areas of the county.

You can find the results here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-XBXMQJ8P7/

As you will see, the pandemic has affected Cook County businesses in dramatically different ways. It’s reassuring that 85 percent of businesses are quite confident they will still exist in six months, but worrisome that the remaining 15 percent are only “somewhat” confident or not at all confident of survival. 

Similarly, while it’s great that more than 40 percent of businesses report revenue of 100 percent or more so far this year compared to last, another 40 percent report revenue of 80 percent or less compared to a year ago, and a very worrisome one-quarter of businesses report revenue of 70 percent or less. There obviously are a number of businesses that will need our support through this coming winter if we want them to survive. If you hear of any that are in trouble, please provide whatever support you can.

One very large red flag stands out in the survey: More than 50 percent of businesses reported their summer staff was insufficient. The effect of this staff shortage was most apparent in the number of businesses – especially restaurants – forced to close in the middle of each week so their staff could rest from the extreme workload it was forced to bear the rest of the week. 

Inadequate workforce is a chronic problem for Cook County, but not to the extreme experienced this pandemic summer. And this despite an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent in June, 7.4 percent in July and 6.2 percent in August. A year earlier, the rate was less than 2 percent. Clearly, a sizable number of employable county residents declined to work this summer, a decision that generous federal unemployment benefits helped make possible.  Two strong reasons for staying home were the need to care for children who lost access to child care because of the pandemic, or concern about elevated personal vulnerability to the COVID-19 virus because of age or compromised physical condition.

But the staff shortage focused the spotlight most brightly on just how much we depend on international workers holding J1 and H2B visas. In a typical summer, Cook County employers hire several hundred of these workers, and they were almost totally absent this year. This summer proved that we can “get by” without them in a pinch, but at the price of retarded business activity and an unhealthy work environment for resident workers. No one we know is at all eager to repeat the summer of 2020 anytime soon.  

The link to the survey results provided above does not include comments offered in response to the last question, about how well local leaders have done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the comments were quite generous in their praise of local leaders, and it seemed that most business leaders were well satisfied with how the pandemic has been handled. There were scattered criticisms, which have been shared with those who  were their focus.

Contact:
Jim Boyd
Executive Director
Cook County Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 805 
Grand Marais, MN 55604
218-370-9665 (office/cell)
218-387-2466 (home)
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