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Survey: Business returns to Summit but labor shortage is slowing progress

Latest survey shows revenue gains for local businesses; impacts of workforce housing shortage

A "help wanted" sign is posted in front of a local business on Main Street in Breckenridge on Tuesday, March 23. Many Summit County businesses are reporting staffing difficulties.
Photo by Ashley Low

When the virus began impacting Summit County in April 2020, Corry Mihm and her team scrambled to gather immediate data to show how the business community was impacted.

Mihm, who is the project manager for the Summit Prosperity Initiative, said when she and her team began launching these surveys, the goal was to see how businesses were coping and identify needs that could be met through the initiative and the Summit Chamber of Commerce.

The latest survey results were released Thursday, July 8. Mihm said the two biggest takeaways — and news worth celebrating — are that businesses are starting to report revenue gains and that owners are feeling more confident looking to the future.



“The thing that really jumped out was that finally, we saw revenue gains,” Mihm said. “The last four surveys have all shown significant revenue loss (for) businesses, and we now, thank goodness, saw revenue gains.”

The survey collected 72 responses and focused on April, May and June 2021 and how these months compared to the same months last year. According to the survey, April 2021 reported revenue was up 25% overall, though results were mixed. In May, revenue was up overall by about 20%, though results for this month were also mixed. In June, the report said that revenue increases were up an estimated 20%.



The second biggest insight Mihm noted was that business owners’ confidence is growing. In the most recent report, 67% of respondents said they are extremely confident or very confident that their business will survive the next year, which is a 10% jump from last quarter’s survey.

This is also a dramatic change from the initiative’s first survey, which focuses on April 2020 exclusively. This survey, which collected 246 responses, reported that roughly 40% of respondents felt extremely confident or very confident that their business would survive the next year.

“Early on, that was a really big concern was how many of our businesses will be able to weather this and as it dragged on, it remained a really big concern,” Mihm said. “Our business confidence has increased dramatically (now) that we’re able to be reopened to 100% capacity (and) lodging is able to book people. We’re not held to 10 people in a gathering.”

Though businesses appear to be on the rebound, the survey didn’t ignore the growing concern of the labor shortage and lack of workforce housing. In the most recent report, only about 24% of respondents said they had a full staff.

Businesses reported that the reason they are understaffed is due to lack of applicants, that potential employees cannot find housing, that there is a lack of skills among applicants and that applicants and former staff aren’t willing to work because they are receiving unemployment benefits.

So how is this playing out each day? The majority of respondents, about 53%, said their current staff is working more hours to cover operating hours. About 27% of respondents said they have shortened their business hours, shifts or meal periods per day. About 25% said that they are closed on certain days of the week.

Blair McGary, executive director of the Summit Chamber of Commerce, said she is seeing this play out first hand in the chamber’s programming.

“We’ve tried to put together a couple business seminars, like on employment law,” McGary said. “When we did an employment law seminar at the beginning of the year, we had close to 100 plus people but we scheduled one recently and we did not have many people sign up for it.”

McGary said she attributes this to how busy business owners and their staff are under current circumstances.

“Not only are business owners busy but so are workers, and everyone is understaffed and overworked right now,” McGary said. “If they have a free hour, they want to ride their mountain bike and get some mental health that way.”

McGary noted that the chamber has chapter meetings for various geographic areas, including a Breckenridge chapter, a Frisco chapter and an Exit 205 chapter. McGary said these monthly meetings are meant for businesses within the location to come together and discuss failures and successes.

Moving forward, Mihm said she hopes these quarterly survey results can be used in the broader conversation when it comes to complex issues impacting Summit County’s business community.

“We’re hoping that it’s a tool — as the conversations are happening around workforce and talent and housing issues — of information to be able to help people understand what’s happening from a business perspective, and try to help make decisions to make the business environment healthier,” Mihm said.

Graphic shows results from the Summit Prosperity Initiative's Economic Impact Survey.
Graphic by Taylor Sienkiewicz / tsienkiewicz@summitdaily.com

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