Ridgefield Releases Results of Coronavirus Impact Survey

RIDGEFIELD, CT — Revenues are down, online sales are up, and most jobs are preserved, according to Ridgefield’s Economic & Community Development Commission.

The information came in the form of the released results of the Ridgefield COVID-19 Business Impact Survey. That questionnaire, distributed in June, was designed to gauge how the town’s 600 businesses and nonprofit organizations are performing during the COVID-19 pandemic

In all, 145 businesses and nonprofits responded to the survey that measured five categories including Operations and Supply Chain, Workforce, Finance, Business Resources, and Future. Data collected from the survey will help Ridgefield’s leaders gain a better understanding of the COVID-19 business climate and inform which resources to pursue in support of Ridgefield’s business and nonprofit community, according to ECDC chair Geoffrey Morris.

“The town now has a clear picture of how Ridgefield businesses and nonprofits are faring in the COVID era,” Morris said. “We can now begin pursuing resources to help Ridgefield’s businesses recover.”

The CRRC task force—a joint effort of ECDC and the Board of Selectmen—will work with businesses in search of financial help. “We are looking to raise funds from both private individuals and from untapped grants,” said Selectman Bob Hebert, who also serves as the CRRC Chair.

Ridgefield began reopening its brick-and-mortar businesses under Connecticut guidelines on May 20. The town’s business community has three key sectors including an arts, culture, and recreation sector; a significant cluster of professional service and healthcare companies; and its historic Main Street, Branchville, and Copps Hill retail and dining districts. While each sector has felt pandemic pain, officials’ optimism is growing with worker sentiment.

“Some employers report a dip in their workforce, but a large majority have held staffing levels flat and forecast little-if-any reduction in force through the end of 2020,” said ECDC Commissioner Bob Knight who spearheaded the survey for the Commission.

Another bright spot is the shift to technology in driving sales and services. “More than half the survey respondents reported a reliance on online sales platforms to remain solvent during the pandemic. About two-thirds of this cohort launched online sales platforms as a direct result of the COVID-19 closures,” said Morris. “Before the pandemic, businesses reported online sales accounted for less than 10 percent of revenues; now that number has more than doubled and we see this as a real opportunity for medium- and long-term growth.”

About 5 percent of Ridgefield’s 600 registered businesses and nonprofits have reached out to ECDC for assistance. The overwhelming majority of survey respondents forecast that they can survive another closing should there be a resurgence from the virus, but a third report less than a month of cash-on-hand to cover operating expenses like payroll and rent.

“Some commercial property owners in Ridgefield are quietly working with tenants on temporary rent concessions, however, through the survey, ECDC has fielded a number of claims that others are unwilling to work with their tenants,” said Morris.

“It’s a complex challenge,” said Knight. “On one hand, we’re still in the midst of a public health emergency. Smaller crowds mean that some businesses—even long-term tenants—face the risk of closing permanently. On the other, some property owners are contractually-restricted by their lenders from renegotiating rents mid-stream.”

In the survey, the town received positive feedback on how it has handled the reopening so far. Knight, who served on the Reopen Ridgefield Task Force, said the reopening, which was organized by First Selectman Rudy Marconi, the Office of Emergency Management, and several other Task Force members, was perceived positively by the business community. “The spirit of Ridgefield has been on full display. Our goal was to have the business community and residents working in partnership on a safe and successful reopening, and that’s exactly what happened. It’s great to see positive feedback. The entire community has stepped up in a big way.”

The key highlights from the Ridgefield COVID-19 Business Impact Survey:

  • Respondents fell into three primary categories:

  • Professional services

  • Restaurants and retail

  • Arts, culture, sports, gyms, recreation

  • Employment among respondents is lower than pre-COVID levels.

  • 62% have held staffing flat

  • 33% have reduced

  • 5% increased

  • Most businesses do not forecast a workforce reduction in next 6 months:

  • 60% say no reduction in force

  • 10% say yes

  • 30% unsure

  • Business revenues since COVID-19 began:

  • 76% of respondents have seen a decrease

  • 24% have seen an increase

  • Access to business credit lines:

  • 52% no

  • 40% yes

  • 8% N/A

  • Can business survive another long-term closure?

  • 62% say yes, or yes with some form of financial assistance

  • 38% unsure or report they cannot survive

  • 33% of respondents have 4 weeks or less of operating cash on hand (some have 1-2 weeks only)

  • 54% of total respondents use the internet for sales.

  • 34% of total respondents (about 63% of those offering internet for sales) started online sales platforms as a direct result of COVID-19

  • Online revenues:

  • Pre-COVID, 80% of respondents said online sales accounted for less than 10% of total revenues

  • During COVID, it was mixed. About a third said it accounted for 100% of sales. Overall number was about 22% of total revenues

  • The big issues for respondents:

  • A COVID-19 resurgence

  • Economic recession

  • Impact on financial markets/access to capital

  • U.S. Presidential election and federal response

  • State response/regulations

  • What happens with K-12 education in the fall—and impact on working parents

  • Helping to manage employee anxiety (fear of contracting virus)

  • Employees worried about their paychecks or workers relying on tips seeing wages greatly reduced

  • What does business community need?

  • Help facilitating conversations between tenant and landlord

  • Small business marketing, social media, web, eCommerce assistance

  • Guidance with applications like SBA, PPP

  • Guidance with CDC and State health guidelines

  • Marketing Ridgefield to help draw more customers

This article originally appeared on the Ridgefield Patch