Charlotte, NC

Charlotte Small Business Owners Weigh In on COVID Impact in Census Survey

Shannon Cuthrell

The U.S. Census Bureau's weekly Small Business Pulse Survey offers an inside look at how small businesses across the country are faring in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is one of 50 regions included in the survey, which gathers responses from about 885,000 non-farm, single-location businesses with fewer than 500 employees and at least $1,000 in receipts.

The survey questions are designed to gauge businesses' overall sentiment, operational challenges, financial stress and expected recovery. Weekly surveys initially began in April 2020 and have extended through five phases, with the most recent responses being published last Thursday.

The newest round of survey data included responses gathered from July 12 to July 18. Below, we'll highlight the latest trends reported by Charlotte-area small businesses in recent weeks—and how those trends compare to previous months:

Overall Impact

The survey's overall sentiment index assesses the sum impact of the pandemic on American businesses, measured using a scale of -1 (negative effect) to +1 (positive effect). In the latest data set, the sentiment among small businesses in the Charlotte area averaged -0.38, slightly higher than the national average of -0.41.

In answering the specific questions posed in the survey, most local businesses reported the pandemic has had a moderate effect on their business. In the last week, about 43.8% cited moderate negative effects, lower than the national average of 42.4%, and 20.5% reported large negative effects, down from 25.2% nationally. At the same time, about 28% reported little or no effect.

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Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia small business responses to the U.S. Census Bureau's Small Business Pulse Survey.U.S. Census Bureau

Early July saw the highest level of responses indicating a moderate negative effect since March. This metric spiked from 41% on the week of June 28 to 50.2% starting July 5—the highest level since March 2021. Prior to that, early September was the last time more than half of local businesses (53.5%) reported moderate effects.

Operational Challenges

The operational challenges index, which gauges the pandemic's impact on day-to-day operations, shows a -0.15 value among Charlotte-area businesses, slightly below the national average of -0.12.

Last week, 48.6% of local businesses reported domestic supplier delays, about 10% higher than the national average and a significant jump from the previous week's 33.7%. This is also the highest level reported since last August. The second recorded high in this category occurred on the week of June 14, with 48% reporting domestic supplier delays.

Metrics covering foreign supplier delays, production delays and delays in delivery/shipping to customers have all increased slightly since late June.

On questions pertaining to COVID-19 testing and vaccination, nearly 80% of local businesses said they don't require employees to test negative or present proof of vaccination before coming into work in person.

On the subject of operating capacity, 18% of business owners reported issues with employees' availability to work and the lack of certain supplies or inputs needed to provide goods and services. Nearly 60% of businesses reported no change in operating capacity, while 22% said their operating capacity has decreased below 50%—consistent with weekly survey averages throughout the summer.

Financial Stress

The majority of Charlotte-area small businesses participating in the survey earned less than $125,000 in the last month. More specifically, 17.2% of respondents reported between $15,000 and $50,000 in operating revenues last month, 17.4% reported $50,001 to $125,000, 15% indicated $125,001 to $200,000, 13.5% reported $200,001 to $500,000 and 13.5% said they earned $500,001 or more.

Most local businesses, or 73.5%, reported no change in revenue over the last reporting period. This metric has fluctuated between 50% and 80% since last August. Prior to that, most businesses reported a decrease in revenue, with the peak occurring on the last week of April when nearly 75% reported lost revenues.

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Charlotte-area businesses' operating revenues, sales and receipts for the last month.U.S. Census Bureau, Small Business Pulse Survey

About half of businesses said they had not requested financial assistance from any sources since December 2020, while nearly 24% said they applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan for the first time, 33% re-applied to the PPP program and 26.4% applied for PPP loan forgiveness.

Needs and Expectations

In the most recent survey earlier this month, 47% of local respondents said they expect to have business travel expenses for air, rail, car rental or lodging in the next six months, while 32.3% said no.

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Local businesses share their needs for the next six months.U.S. Census Bureau, Small Business Pulse Survey

Considering their needs for the next six months, 33.8% cited the need to identify and hire new employees, 28% cited increased marketing or sales, 21.2% noted new supply chain options and 19% cited capital expenditures.

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Charlotte-area businesses share their expectations on when operations might return to normal.U.S. Census Bureau, Small Business Pulse Survey

Asked how much time will pass before their business returns to its normal level of operations, 16% of respondents indicated four to six months (higher than the national average of 12.6%), while 32.8% predicted six months or longer (slightly higher than 32.5% nationally). Meanwhile, 13% said there's been little or no effect on normal operations (down from the national average of 17.1%), and 24% said they've already returned to normal operations (up from 22.6% nationally).

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Shannon Cuthrell is a Charlotte-based freelance journalist with a background covering business, technology and economic development. She has written for Business North Carolina magazine, WRAL TechWire and EE Power, among other publications.

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