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Survey shows coronavirus impact on Alabama businesses

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A recent survey of Alabama businesses show a fuller picture of how coronavirus has affected the state’s economy.

Taken late last month by the Alabama Workforce Council, the Alabama COVID-19 Workforce Response Survey details how businesses are navigating the pandemic. In it, 1,794 businesses reported how the coronavirus outbreak affects everything from market demand to financial impact and hiring practices. Survey respondents are mostly small businesses, with 68% of them employing one to 25 workers.

The novel coronavirus has left many Alabama businesses affected. A large majority of respondents, 82%, expect the coronavirus to impact them negatively. Meanwhile, only 46.3% of businesses felt at least somewhat equipped to handle the pandemic.

There are a number of things worrying businesses given the current situation, ranging from employees catching the virus to paying the bills and even business closures. Other concerns are: delays to economic recovery; duration of pandemic; lack of cash flow and demands; general uncertainty; effects of government intervention; and, reopening too soon.

Business climate was also a concern for a majority of respondents, with 53.4% saying the current business climate is “bad,” while 49.6% expected the climate to improve in the next six months. One factor affecting the business climate is market demand, with 35.9% of businesses reporting that a lack of market demand is the biggest factor limiting business activity.

“We are grateful to the business owners who took the time to help us identify critical needs and priorities for a full workforce recovery,” said Alabama Workforce Council Chairman Tim McCartney. “Utilizing the survey results, the Alabama Workforce Council will continue with our important work of assisting the state to the fullest extent possible with all workforce recovery efforts and continue to push career pathways and programs that are most resilient to create a more agile workforce.”

In regards to workforce, 33% of respondents reported laying off employees due to the outbreak. Nearly half of all businesses, 49.4%, reported that they expected their workforce will remain relatively constant during the next three months. However, 53% of businesses expect to implement a hiring freeze during the pandemic.

Additionally, 53% of businesses indicated that during and after the pandemic more employer-delivered, skills-based training would benefit their company, making it the form of training in highest demand. To that end, the Alabama Department of Labor provides services that can assist with that objective.

“Many services are available through local career centers, including on-the-job training, apprenticeship programs, and work based learning programs,” said Alabama Department of Labor Communications Director Tara Hutchison. “Additional training includes vocational and education training, such as GED programs and truck driving school. Due to the pandemic and closings and restrictions, some hands-on training has been temporarily suspended, but jobseekers can still work with staff to get approval or to make alternate arrangements.”

While there are many difficulties facing the business community, some believe the state’s economy will persevere over the long haul.

“While the last two months have been incredibly challenging for business throughout Alabama, [businesses] have shown strength, determination, and unparalleled resiliency,” said Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt. “The innovation and agility exhibited by businesses of all shapes and sizes, modifying ‘business as usual’ to fit the current climate, shows that we as a business community will not only survive, but will one day thrive again as we navigate our new normal.”

The industries with the highest participation rate in the survey were other services, healthcare and social assistance, retail trade, hospitality and food services, and manufacturing.

The Alabama Workforce Council says it will use the survey results in discussions with various stakeholders surrounding the future of workforce in the state of Alabama.

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