Economic Surveys Show Vermont Small Business Pandemic Pessimism

ore than 150 Vermont businesses from diverse industries and several counties completed the latest annual economic survey in January regarding the outlook of Vermont’s small- to medium-sized businesses. 86% of the business owners who responded have fewer than 25 employees. The survey, presented by Davis and Hodgdon Associates CPAs and the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, revealed that there is dramatic negative change in business owners’ attitudes about the Vermont and U.S. economies. Based on the information gleaned from the entire survey this pessimism is most likely a result of the effects of the pandemic.

When asked how the pandemic has directly impacted their business an overwhelming 85% have experienced a decrease in revenue (31% have decreased by more than 50%, 35% decreased between 20-50%). Only 13% of business owners surveyed have not had their revenue negatively impacted by COVID-19.

All respondents agree that the pandemic has permanently changed how they do business. While everyone anticipates significant challenges for their business in 2021 no one is definitively planning to downsize in any way because of it.

Respondents identified the top three key issues facing their businesses as: pandemic-related issues (overwhelmingly at 87%), finding qualified employees (36%), and health insurance costs (23%). Vermont taxes were also identified as a top concern for many (22%). Not surprisingly, the latter three are the same key issues that business owners identified in the previous ten surveys dating back to January of 2012.

Business owners were asked to identify one business economic issue they want to see addressed by the state legislature this year. The answers revealed continued frustration with over taxation and the excessive cost of doing business in Vermont. Also noteworthy were a handful of business owners that
identified pandemic relief in the form of additional funding as well as acceleration of vaccine distribution to ensure that businesses can remain open.

New this year were questions related to the owner’s succession planning strategies. Surprisingly, nearly half (48%) of business owners have no exit plan in place at this time and most will likely sell their business to an external buyer. There are some that indicated they could possibly sell to a few key employees or family members.

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