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Summit County survey shows decrease in business owner confidence, shrunken workforce

Family & Intercultural Resource Center Executive Director Brianne Snow helps carry food from a delivery. Snow said the center is seeing many locals exhausted by the pandemic and considering leaving the county.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

The Summit Prosperity Initiative’s recent economic impact survey reflected worsening business conditions and found that overall business confidence is decreasing and that staffing is a major concern.

The survey results from Oct. 30 to Nov. 12 were grim, and that was before the county went into level red. Project manager Corry Mihm anticipates the November and December impacts likely will be worse than the study indicated.

Year over year, October revenue declined about 10%. That figure varies greatly across businesses with about 18% reporting flat revenue, about 6% reporting decreases of 80% to 100%, and 6% reporting their best October ever. According to the survey, November’s revenue decline is estimated at 20% and December revenue is estimated to decline 25%, but actual results likely will be worse due to new restrictions, Mihm said.



Out of 164 Summit County business owners who responded to the survey, about 18% said they were “not so confident” or “not at all confident” that they will be able to continue business and survive for the next year. Compared with spring and summer survey results, responses showed less confidence as the pandemic wears on.

Responding to workforce concerns, about 29% of those surveyed estimated that up to 20% of their staff had left the area and won’t be available to rehire. About 14% of respondents estimated that 21% to 40% of their staff had left.



Blair McGary, executive director of the Summit Chamber of Commerce, said local businesses are doing everything they can to keep their workforce in place, but this is extremely difficult for restaurants that aren’t bringing in much revenue. In an attempt to keep employees, McGary said restaurants are trying not to lay off anyone but have had to cut back employee shifts. Some restaurants also are extending hours to open up more shifts.

“These aren’t sustainable models, and they’re not necessarily models that businesses want to continue into the future even when coronavirus goes away,” McGary said.

McGary pointed out that a lack of employees is a problem that predates the pandemic and stressed the importance of making sure people can live and work in Summit County in order to keep a consistent workforce. Because Summit County is heavily reliant on tourism, she said economic diversification needs to be a goal and could be one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic.

McGary said she can say “with certainty” that some businesses will be lost. She added that the lack of federal aid isn’t helping.

According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, 24% of restaurants in counties in level red are at risk of closing within a month, Mihm said. While some industries have been hit especially hard, such as restaurants and events, McGary said she doesn’t believe any business has been spared from the economic impacts of the pandemic.

“Right now, most people are staffed to the level that revenue can handle …” Mihm said. “The real concern is just the uncertainty. There are a lot of local employees who are on the verge of leaving if they can’t get a clear answer as to when they might have work again.”

Mihm said the paramount need for the business community is to see any sort of reopening that could generate revenue. To put the importance of this month’s revenue into context, Mihm pointed out that when you look at sales tax generation throughout the year, December is usually the first or second highest earner and that the last 10 days of the month are crucial in annual revenue.

Brianne Snow, executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said people are exhausted by living in uncertainty and are struggling to believe that the county will stay open even if it is able to open for the holidays.

People are having a hard time with their mental health and with not being able to connect with family members, Snow said. Of course, there is also the financial element that people are struggling to pay their bills.

“People are, for all intents and purposes, giving up,” Snow said about people who are leaving. “They just can’t do it anymore. So it’s really sad. These folks are the fabric of our community. They’re what makes us be the destination that we are, and so without them, I just don’t know what this community is going to look like.”

Snow said people are moving back to their hometowns, where they might not have lived for over a decade, to have that familial support system. Those residents have seen the ups and downs over the years, such as poor snow seasons or dips in the economy, but with the high cost of living, this year has been too difficult for people to stay, Snow said. According to a survey conducted by the nonprofit, 89% of people who applied for rental assistance would have to leave in less than three months without the financial help.

About 85% of the nonprofit’s current clients are in the restaurant industry, and Snow said many of them don’t think the industry is stable and are considering moving away or leaving the industry.

Through local fundraising, The Summit Foundation and the county and town governments, Snow anticipates $1 million will be put back into the community. While that might sound like a lot of money, the resource center spent the same amount in rental assistance in the first eight weeks of the spring shutdown. If the county can loosen restrictions later in December, Snow said it will be enough. But the nonprofit will be challenged to stretch the funding if more restrictions are put in place.

“Ultimately, I think if we do not create programs that support our community, like small business assistance and rental assistance for individuals, we’re going to see a mass exodus of those people that really are the fabric of our community,” Snow said.


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