ELLSWORTH — Can Maine’s businesses, particularly those that cater to tourists, bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic and measures to stop the virus’s spread?
For some, the answer is barely or maybe not at all, according to a survey of 1,467 businesses by the Maine Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.
Of those surveyed in Hancock County, 24 lodging and campground businesses and seven restaurants reported being extremely unlikely to open this summer. And those changes may be permanent. In Hancock County, 11 lodging and campground businesses and four restaurants said they would be extremely unlikely to open next summer as well.
The survey, conducted online May 1-6, gauged reactions to Governor Janet Mills’ gradual reopening plan. It was conducted before the state announced its rural reopening plan, which allowed retail stores and restaurants in counties without evidence of community transmission, including Hancock County, to reopen earlier than originally planned. The Rural Reopening Plan addressed some business concerns identified in the survey.
The survey results paint a bleak picture in terms of revenue.
Eight out of 10 lodging and campground owners anticipate economic losses over 50 percent in 2020; 6 out of 10 anticipate losses over 70 percent. Two out of three restaurants and bars anticipate economic losses over 50 percent in 2020; over 85 percent anticipate losses of over 40 percent this year. One out of two retailers anticipate economic losses of 50 percent or more in 2020, with three out of four expecting losses of 30 percent or more.
Survey respondents identified having 37,179 employees before COVID-19 began and they indicated that approximately half (48.2 percent) have been laid-off or furloughed. Of remaining employees, 26 percent are working reduced hours. Additionally, nearly 6,000 new hires were not made because of COVID-19. Those include seasonal and year-round positions.
When asked about the likelihood of opening this summer, 16 percent of businesses responded that was extremely unlikely. For businesses in Hancock and York counties, many of which rely on seasonal tourism, that figure was over 20 percent. Among the hard-hit industries were events, event planning and weddings; the arts and theater; nature and charter-based tourism; and lodging.
More than half (53 percent) of respondents have accessed Paycheck Protection Program loans, and 15 percent have been approved for Economic Injury Disaster Loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Not surprisingly, the 14-day quarantine requirement for out-of-state visitors is hurting business for lodging and other tourism-related businesses.
Businesses also indicated they want more transparency and clarity in the state’s process for determining which kinds of businesses can open and when.
“Businesses want to be included as part of the solution and in decisions regarding reopening plans and believe they can be trusted to implement safeguards and precautions to reopen safely and responsibly,” according to a statement announcing the survey results. “They take their role in helping to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 very seriously.”