The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on the majority of Calgary businesses’ bottom lines, but new data suggests optimism for a positive economic recovery continues to grow.
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce commissioned the poll from Trend Research and Janet Brown Opinion Research, which surveyed 250 businesses in Calgary and area between the end of February and March.
The survey showed 71 per cent of Calgary businesses saw a decline in revenues throughout the pandemic, with the average business seeing 48.9 per cent less revenue.
“It was a huge impact,” Forman’s Menswear sales representative Tania Franklin said Monday. “Because the store was closed, there really wasn’t any revenue coming in. As a store, it was dead down here.”
Businesses in the service sector made up 80 per cent of the businesses that reported revenue dips.
Ventures with between 10 and 49 employees were among 78 per cent of businesses to lose money.
As a result of the losses in revenue, businesses sought relief through government COVID-19 support programs.
The poll showed 70 per cent of the businesses in the city accessed at least one relief program, with the most popular option being the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, with uptake among 54 per cent of businesses.
While the poll shows just how vast the impact of COVID-19 has been on the business community, it also shows a shift in mood.
“There are some actual reasonable grounds for thinking we’re going to get beyond COVID because of the vaccination rollout,” chamber interim CEO Murray Sigler said. “So that came loud and clear.”
Sixty-two per cent of respondents said they are optimistic about Alberta’s economic prospects, which is up seven per cent from a similar poll taken in September 2020.
The optimism is felt at Foreman’s Menswear in Victoria Park, which recently returned to regular store hours after operating by appointment only.
“Over the last little while, things have started to pick up,” Franklin said. “People are walking through the door, which was not happening this last year.”
Meanwhile, 36 per cent of businesses said they’re planning to hire in the next six months and 17 per cent of respondents are bracing to lay off staff.
“What was really good news is we saw twice as many businesses who said they were expecting to hire in the next six months than were expecting to layoff and that’s an important change from when we were in the field the last time in September,” pollster Janet Brown said.
“In September, businesses just didn’t know where the end of this was. We’re not exactly sure where the end is but it does feel like the end is in sight.”
Although optimism and confidence send a positive signal for the local economy, Sigler stressed that the recovery will be complex.
According to the chamber, the focus is to lobby for lowering non-residential property taxes, attract young talent to Calgary and improve relationships with the province. Easing COVID-19 restrictions, diversification and energy-related issues were among the biggest keys for the chamber at the provincial level.
With Calgarians heading to the polls in a municipal election in the fall and rumours swirling of a federal election sometime this year, Sigler said the recovery will require collaboration and bipartisanship.
“Not just the city, not just the province, not just the government of Canada, but all three of them,” Sigler said. “We won’t be driven by partisanship. We’ll be driven by community.”