Surveys say: Small businesses banking on a vaccine-driven recovery

Many small and mid-sized business owners strongly support vaccinations for COVID-19 and plan to encourage their employees to get the shots, which are central to a return to normalcy, according to the latest PNC semi-annual national small business survey.

Here are some highlights:

Vaccine plans: Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) plan to require employees to get vaccinated, a third indicated they will provide education about vaccination and almost one quarter (22%) plan to provide incentives to their employees who vaccinate. Almost half of respondents (45%) expect the growing availability of vaccinations to have a positive impact on their sales.

The road ahead: Almost half of survey respondents (48%) said that they are facing challenges to stay in business and nearly one in four (24%) said they can only continue to operate in the current economic conditions for up to a year. As a result, business owners reported that price hikes may be in store. Among survey respondents, 40% indicated that they plan to increase prices in the next six months, up from fewer than a third in the fall survey.

COVID response: More than half of business leaders (53%) made product-related changes, either in the way they sell or deliver their products or services (51%) or in their product offerings (23%). More than half (54%) of those making product-related changes also expect them to be permanent. Also, nearly one in four businesses reported that they reduced their workforce last year and while most are not anticipated to be permanent layoffs, rehiring will be a slow process. Of those businesses that took action to cut workers in the past year, eight in 10 (82%) consider the decrease to be temporary or a furlough. More than two-thirds (69%) said the action impacted 25% or less of their workforce. However, the survey measured a record-low proportion of businesses expecting to increase the number of full-time employees (7%) in the next six months.

Back to Work: While the pandemic necessitated a major shift to work-from-home policies, these are unlikely to remain permanent. Nearly half of businesses reported shifting to work-from-home, but only a fraction (15%) anticipate the change to be long-lasting, while 59% expect it to be temporary. The remaining respondents were unsure.

“Clearly, small and mid-sized business owners have high hopes that successful adoption of vaccinations by the public will translate into an improved business environment, but many challenges remain in front of them,” Gus Faucher, chief economist for PNC, said. “As we saw in our survey last fall, business owners remain resilient as they adapt to the massive economic changes the pandemic has caused, and they expect most of these changes to be genuinely transformative.”

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