Maine business survey reveals optimism despite need for more aid

Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
·2 min read

Mar. 18—A survey of more than 500 Maine businesses found a plurality are optimistic that 2021 will be better for them, but they are still concerned about keeping enough cash on hand to make it through the year.

The survey was conducted in December by the Maine Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine Tourism Association. It polled over 500 Maine businesses in 35 industries to gauge their experiences and opinions on a variety of issues related to recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The results were issued Thursday.

Many businesses said they need additional funds — an average of $65,000 more than what they expect to generate through sales — to guarantee they will still be open in a year's time.

Respondents were about twice as likely to express optimism than pessimism toward the coming year — 41 percent to 23 percent. About one-third of respondents said they were unsure.

"One interesting part for me was the percentage of optimism for the upcoming tourism season, which has grown in the last few months," said Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, in a statement. "This survey was taken in December, and comparing those results to a survey we conducted just last week with strictly tourism businesses, optimism has increased from about 40 percent of respondents to 69 percent of respondents."

Overwhelmingly, businesses said they need an injection of cash over the next three to six months more than anything else to stay afloat. More than 51 percent of respondents chose "cash infusion" as a top-three priority. It was more than twice as likely as any other option to be chosen as such.

Other top priorities included rent or mortgage relief (28.7 percent), better insurance rates (24.8 percent), more employees (23.9 percent) and lower utility rates (21.3 percent).

Many respondents said they were forced to downsize in 2020, with the average business reducing its staff by four workers. About 56 percent of respondents said they had the same number of employees in December as they did a year earlier, while 34.7 percent had fewer employees and just under 10 percent had more employees.

The purpose of the survey is to influence Maine lawmakers who are shaping the state's pandemic-related economic recovery policy, according to Cory King, former president of the Maine Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

"The impact of this survey is just how much quality information it contains," said King, executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber and the survey's creator. "These initial findings are very insightful, but this data set could be segmented by business size, or industry type, and you could find an entirely new set of findings. For instance, what's the main reason retailers don't hire some candidates? Is that the same reasons as restaurants, or are there hiring issues more prevalent in certain industries than others? It's fascinating data."