To better understand the needs of Mercer Island businesses, the challenges they’re facing and more during the pandemic, the city conducted its second survey over the summer.
Led by Nancy Hardwick, CEO of Hardwick Research, in conjunction with Sarah Bluvas, the city’s economic development coordinator, the results of the 2021 business needs assessment were revealed at the Oct. 5 city council meeting.
Also zeroing in on aid or support that businesses might need and ways the city can provide support, the 19-question online survey was at businesses’ fingertips from June 15 to July 7. An initial survey was conducted in 2020, and Hardwick and Bluvas wanted to do further research to see how things may have changed over time as the pandemic has continued.
They received 176 responses out of the 962 businesses that were invited to participate in the survey via an email blast and city and chamber of commerce newsletters. Hardwick said they received completed surveys from more retail businesses this time out and fewer responses from home-based businesses, which were more abundant in 2020.
“Which is actually a good thing because we learned from the home-based businesses that we surveyed in the summer of 2020 that they didn’t have a whole lot of specific needs from the city or challenges that they were facing (in 2021),” Hardwick said.
Hardwick said that one key finding within the survey in the positive column is that 36% of businesses reported that they weren’t currently facing any challenges while 11% said that was the case in 2020.
Some primary challenges that businesses are running up against due to the pandemic are significant business decrease (29%) — the 2020 survey showed 48% — and keeping up with or deciphering the state-mandated COVID-19 rules (27%). Further along in the report, 38% don’t anticipate any new challenges when activity restrictions are lifted.
To remedy the monetary issues they have faced during the pandemic, 56% of businesses pursued financial assistance, with 45% taking advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program, 13% benefiting from the Mercer Island COVID-19 relief for small businesses grant program, and 7% receiving help from the We Love MI campaign.
“We learned that businesses want the city to continue the efforts they have already enacted,” said Hardwick, referring to some emergency policies to assist businesses, the MInext buy local marketing campaign and more.
In order to further support businesses and strengthen the community, survey responders suggested that the city hold special events in the Town Center and nearby parks, beautify the Town Center and place seasonal decorations in that area, improve parking, attract new businesses, spotlight businesses and find ways to connect businesses.
“They see networking as a way to help gain new business,” Hardwick said of the final suggestion.