How has COVID-19 impacted businesses, nonprofits and households in the area? What obstacles did people encounter during the pandemic? What can be done to bolster recovery and better prepare for other economic disruptions?
These questions are at the heart of a now-live survey, launched by the Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce and the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, along with other economic development agencies.
The goal is to gather feedback to inform a pandemic response and recovery plan, which is being developed with a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
There are three variations on the survey — one each for households, businesses, and public or nonprofit organizations — and each one takes about five minutes to complete.
Chamber President and CEO Brandy Miller told the Daily News that everyone is encouraged to participate at least once.
“We’re asking everyone in Mason County to take the survey — maybe even take it twice if they own a business,” Miller said. “We’re really hopeful that people will take the time to fill it out.”
Miller said “at minimum,” she’d like to see everyone take the household survey, though people are welcome to take all that apply.
The surveys ask questions about economic challenges faced in West Michigan since the onset of COVID-19 in spring 2020. They went live in September and will be open to the public until mid-November at https://wmsrdc.org.
The survey arose from the participating agencies’ focus on pandemic recovery, as well as planning and response to any future events that might lead to similar challenges, according to Miller.
“Part of that was to really identify and understand how businesses have been impacted, how nonprofits have been impacted, and how households and individuals in the area were impacted by COVID-19, and to develop a recovery plan,” Miller said.
The surveys are brief and anonymous, according to Miller, but they do ask for some demographic information.
“Because this is a multi-county approach, they’ll have to say where they live and give some background information about age and if they’re employed,” she said.
In each of the surveys, respondents are asked which county they live in, or where the business or nonprofit is based.
The household survey asks about respondents’ current employment status, the number of people in the household, and whether they are or have worked from home since April 2020. It also asks if anyone in the household experienced job loss or a decrease in income as a result of the pandemic and what factors “negatively impacted” people’s ability to seek or maintain employment.
There is also a section about educational and learning challenges and how students in the household fared academically during the pandemic.
The household survey offers two opportunities for respondents to share experiences in their own words, with questions about the biggest obstacle presented by the pandemic and whether there were any positives during that period.
The business and nonprofit surveys ask about how COVID-19 impacted operations, staffing and funding. There are questions about revenue, employee furloughs and layoffs and whether financial assistance was sought.
Businesses are asked when, if ever, they expect to be back to pre-pandemic operating levels and whether the respondent would be willing to provide their name for a follow-up interview.
The nonprofit survey asks similar questions, with additional items addressing how organizations plan to spend American Rescue Plan Act funds and whether the organization was able to meet the needs of businesses and individuals during the pandemic.
A press release from the Chamber highlighted the importance of the COVID impact data.
“The documentation of local pandemic impacts may be useful for accessing various types of state and federal assistance for pandemic recovery. In addition, survey information will help planners identify anticipated additional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and identify potential strategies for coping with future pandemics or other economic disruptions,” it stated.
Once the survey period comes to an end, the results will be compiled in a report that will be made available to the public. That report will “feed into” the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission’s recovery plan, according to the chamber.
“The results and the plan are expected to be completed by mid-year 2022,” Miller said. “The hope is to identify community development and economic development needs.”
Miller added, “It helps the chamber identify what areas of focus need to be given to our community in terms of community and economic development.”
Miller said the data will be an asset for West Michigan as a whole as it moves toward stability and recovery.
“I think the biggest thing is, there are obviously lessons to be learned (from the pandemic) as it relates to households, businesses and nonprofits,” she said. “We’re trying to understand how it has impacted our community, but we’re also directing the future to make sure our recovery is quick.”