In January, the city of Grover Beach partnered with the South County Chambers of Commerce and officially started work on a project to cultivate and enhance economic development. The project is still on, but since COVID-19 hit, its goals have changed significantly.
“So originally we had wanted to focus really on business attraction and expansion of existing businesses,” South County chamber President and CEO Jocelyn Brennan told New Times
. “Now we’re just going to focus on business retention.”
SCREENSHOT FROM SOUTH COUNTY CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE REPORT
A NEW FOCUS A pair of South County Chambers of Commerce surveys compare what Grover Beach businesses said were their biggest challenges before (top) and after (bottom) COVID-19.
When the Grover Beach City Council initially approved its $120,000 economic development agreement with the South County Chambers of Commerce in December 2019, the idea was that an economic asset website and an incubation program could help the city attract new businesses and expand its existing ones. But the coronavirus pandemic and resulting state and county stay-at-home orders took a toll on a number of local businesses. Two recent chamber surveys of Grover Beach businesses give some insight into the extent of COVID-19’s impacts.
The chamber launched a survey to identify key challenges for Grover Beach businesses on March 11, just days before SLO County issued its stay-at-home order on March 13. Roughly 153 businesses responded to the initial survey, but Brennan said the chamber and city wanted to know how things have changed for businesses since COVID-19.
So the chamber launched another survey specific to the impacts of COVID-19, and while Brennan said it’s still open, 77 businesses had responded as of May 18.
According to a chamber report comparing the surveys
, about 44 percent of the 153 businesses surveyed prior to COVID-19 planned to expand and add employees. That number dropped to 30 percent among the 77 businesses surveyed after COVID-19.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the most significant challenges businesses said they faced were finding affordable housing for employees, stringent state regulations, and finding qualified employees. After COVID-19, businesses cited pandemic-related revenue losses as their biggest challenge.
Still, even with recent difficulties in mind, 84 percent of businesses most recently surveyed said they still plan to expand or remain the same in the next one to three years.
The data, which the chamber will use to better expand its outreach to Grover Beach businesses, doesn’t give an exact picture of life before and after COVID-19. Some businesses that responded to the initial survey didn’t take the second and vice versa. Others completed both.
“It’s enough to give a good comparison of before and after,” Brennan said, “but it’s not a perfect science.”
The economic assets website
is now live, and business owners and companies hoping to open or add a location in Grover can go to it and find out about life in the area.
But with survey results in hand, Brennan said the chamber is pivoting its focus. The chamber is honing in on business recovery efforts, including education on relief resources and reopening guidelines, assistance with online sales and procedures, marketing campaigns, and industry round-tables to keep businesses connected and unified.
Grover Beach City Council is also considering the possibility of setting up a micro-grant or loan program to support businesses impacted by COVID-19, which would be funded by $100,000 in one-time SB 1090 funds. According to a city press release, the council will discuss this program further during the upcoming FY 2020-21 budget hearing on June 1.
Despite the challenges ahead, Brennan said she’s optimistic that Grover Beach businesses will survive and expansion will be at the forefront of her project again soon.
“Grover Beach is an amazing city to do economic development in,” Brennan said, “because they’re always thinking outside the box.” ∆