A Main Street business shows its new hours cut back due to COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 31. The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce recently released a study that shows many local business owners need financial assistance to stay in business throughout the pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Businesses projected to lose over $2M in April, chamber survey says

Chamber Business Impact Survey paints dire picture for Yukon businesses.

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce has released a study that shows business owners need financial assistance to keep their enterprises alive.

The key findings were made public in a press release. Chamber executive director Susan Simpson spoke with the News on March 31 about the results of the survey.

“It’s showing that the impact of COVID-19 and the response to it is being felt across the economy and business sector,” Simpson said.

She said that there were 878 invitations sent for participation. The chamber got 115 responses — a 13 per cent response rate.

According to the release, 88 per cent of the participating business owners — in various sectors of the economy — reported experiencing some impact from the response to the COVID-19.

Eighty per cent of the respondents claim to have lost business at the local level and up to 56 per cent say their businesses have lost money due to there being less visitors to the territory.

The businesses were asked if they believed they could make it through the downturn and recover with slightly over half of the respondents, 52 per cent, feeling their businesses could last and recover.

The remaining 48 per cent are split in their outlook.

Seven per cent feel their businesses may have to close by the end of April. The remaining businesses are taking a “wait and see” response, continuing to evaluate their financial situation as the circumstances around the pandemic evolve.

Of those that participated, only 12 percent of business owners said they have not been impacted.

Some participants offered more information about losses.

In the month of March, the 57 per cent of respondents accounted for a total combined loss of $3.1 million.

Asked about projected losses for April, 42 per cent expected to lose a total of $2.6-million.

The report noted that these businesses would normally need around an average of $96,000 in revenue to break even. There is a projected average shortfall of $63,100.

Simpson said this survey was a preliminary response and reached out to chamber members as a way of supporting members through gathering information. It will forward the data to all levels of government and the business community.

She said the results show that business owners need information so they can make decisions moving forward in an ever-changing situation.

“Our private sector is being impacted obviously and as information changes, they have to pivot to respond to recommendations made by the chief medical officer (Dr. Brendan Hanley),” Simpson said.

She said the chamber is sending out information daily to members, with the goal of getting the information out to the larger business community, including when the federal or territorial government make announcements related to the pandemic.

The News reached out to all three major territorial political parties for comment.

Copperbelt South MLA Scott Kent of the Yukon Party said these results match the calls he has received from business owners. He found it remarkable how many businesses are considering folding.

“That calls for some action from the premier,” Kent said.

He argued that Premier Sandy Silver has largely been absent while he should be stepping up and supporting the business community. He feels businesses are looking for some transparency and action from the government to come up with solutions that will allow them to remain viable businesses.

He said this is not business as usual, as he feels the government is responding.

Yukon NDP leader Kate White said this shows the local business community is hurting.

“It’s definately an eye-opening report,” White said.

She said this is affecting more than just the tourism sector and those other businesses also need to be supported.

She found the reported losses, in the millions, for March and projected for April to be surprising. She was also surprised that these businesses would normally need $96,000 to break even.

“These are some pretty stark numbers in there,” White said.

She feels government needs to look at how to best support local business to minimize closures, suggesting the government look into grant programs. She also wants to have more conversations with the business community to see the best way it can be supported.

Cabinet spokesperson Sunny Patch offered a statement on behalf of the Yukon government.

“We are aware of a number of surveys of the economic impact COVID-19 being conducted by local business organizations and we appreciate the Chambers/organizations for their commitment to their clients during these trying times,” Patch said.

She said the informaton will be shared in government and reviewed. She added that this information will be part of the government’s tracking of business impacts. This tracking also includes input from the Business Advisory Council and word of mouth from businesses.

She added the Department of Economic Development is doing its own survey on the same topic. She called it comprehensive. It will begin on April 1 and will continue on a monthly basis. Invitations will be mailed out to various chambers and industry organizations on the government’s mailing lists.

“The survey will gather information from a wide range of members of Yukon’s economy,” Patch said.

Any business wishing to participate in the government survey can contact the depatement by email at ecdev@gov.yk.ca.

Contact Gord Fortin at gord.fortin@yukon-news.com

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