Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March, we have all learned that there is no “business as usual” about the past seven months in the business community here in this region, throughout Oregon, the United States and the world.
We have seen it firsthand through our Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center advising, where our team has met with 300 business clients with free and confidential advising so far in 2020, compared to 158 in 2019. The majority of these sessions have dealt with COVID-19 relief options like the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) as well as critical strategies to move business through pandemic response and recovery and the future.
I am also serving on Gov. Kate Brown's Regional Solutions North Coast Economic Recovery Team, representing the Clatsop County business community and providing feedback, guidance, passion and non-stop representation for the thousands of businesses located here, along with our elected officials, chamber and downtown association directors, Business Oregon, Col-PAC and other public sector partners.
Our team participated in the America’s SBDC virtual conference on Sept. 29 and 30, and we were inspired by keynote speakers and workshop presentations with a singular focus of supporting our small businesses through the pandemic and to the other side, when there is a vaccine, to renewed growth and prosperity.
One of the most helpful presentations for guidance was from Michael Brown, chief economist for VISA.
He stated that we are in a “checkmark” recovery. Envision a checkmark symbol that goes down quickly but gains momentum through the recovery time, assuming there are not more dramatic changes in COVID-19, and that we let science guide the response.
Key facts from VISA’s perspective:
• The “anatomy of the 2020 recession” is while the widespread shelter in place orders led to rapid job losses, one key difference from prior recessions is more temporary job losses. (Note in Clatsop and Pacific counties the importance of the leisure and hospitality industry has continuing challenges because of required social distancing measures, and especially with our restaurant and craft brewing sectors with the upcoming “rainy season,” which will not allow significant outdoor dining options.)
• Consumer confidence has not stabilized. Over 51% of respondents answered they were extremely or very concerned about COVID-19 and it has impacted their spending habits.
• Among those extremely or very concerned, 57% are shopping more online, and 52% are avoiding certain types of stores.
• What are consumers spending more money on? Obviously groceries. But also recreational goods and home furnishings as most consumers are staying close to home.
• What are consumers spending less money on? Restaurants, gas, recreational services, clothing and hotels. (Our hotels at the North Coast have had a real rebound since May as urban residents want to get out of town and get to the coast, which has been a big benefit over the past four months.)
So what is our call to action here at the North Coast?
The most important thing is to make a conscious effort to support our local businesses with your spending. As the above facts show, 57% of consumers are shopping more online. I would venture to guess since we live in a rural area it may even be higher. Our businesses need the local residents more than ever to support them.
Many of our successful North Coast businesses have robust websites and social media pages. Don’t think of them after the fact but at the very beginning of your shopping search plans. So many have wonderful customer service and selections that draw you back time and time again, but share this with your family and friends so they can also experience the service and selections provided. And note many of these retail businesses will offer curbside pickup, special hours and good old fashioned phone calls to place an order, or get ideas for gift giving, all within the safety measures and protocols we have become accustomed to.
Take the time to check out the shopping and dining options using websites and Facebook pages of the Astoria-Warrenton, Cannon Beach and Seaside chambers of commerce, and also the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association and Seaside Downtown Development Association.
There are also Facebook groups that have been formed by local entrepreneurs to showcase our eating establishments. Some that come to mind are called Astoria Eats, Seaside Takeout, Delivery and Retail, and Clatsop County: Take out eats and treats.
With our restaurants, craft beverage and brewery and food cart sector, plan to support them consciously. This is a very easy ask as we have amazing food options throughout the entire region. The intentional support is critical during the upcoming rainy season, which will dramatically decrease the amount of outdoor dining choices, and consumers will have two choices for the most part; dine-in and to-go.
Each individual makes up their own mind when it comes to dining indoors, and I am so proud of how the vast majority of businesses have stepped up following all the Oregon Health Authority guidelines, but the reality of 50 to 60% less indoor seating because of important social distancing regulations is not sustainable for the long term, so extra effort is warranted.
What do you have to lose other than a few pounds?!
Kevin Leahy is the executive director of CEDR and Clatsop Community College SBDC. Contact him at bizcenter.org/Clatsop, firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-338-2402 to schedule an appointment, which is currently being done through ZOOM.