Given the impact COVID-19 and the various state mandates restricting business operations have had on New Jersey’s economy this year, the results of NJBIA’s 2021 Business Outlook Survey (pages 21-26) are hardly a surprise. Nevertheless, we hope New Jersey’s policymakers take these findings to heart as they make decisions affecting businesses in the months ahead.
Businesses have already experienced deep economic losses in 2020, with 76% of NJBIA members surveyed reporting a decline in revenues through the first eight months of the year; 27% expecting further losses through December; and 33% forecasting continued losses in 2021.
Nearly half of all respondents (47%) said they believed it would take more than a year, if ever, for them to generate the profits they lost during the state-ordered closure of nonessential businesses in the early months of the pandemic. More than half (56%) said they have had to obtain grants and / or loans to survive, and 23% laid off employees.
Most tellingly, as New Jersey continues to be a national outlier for the operating restrictions it has imposed on its businesses, one in 10 respondents tell us they have doubts their business can survive. In the hard-hit retail sector, nearly one in five businesses worry they cannot outlast this economic downturn.
Our survey results also underscore why NJBIA continues to loudly advocate at the State House for liability protection for employers who follow established pandemic safety protocols. More than half of respondents (66%) told us they were concerned about being sued by someone who alleges he or she contracted COVID-19 at their business despite all the safety precautions taken. And 45% told us they could not afford the litigation costs associated with defending their business against such lawsuits.
To show our policymakers the real New Jersey business owners and nonprofit leaders whose struggles are behind these sobering statistics, NJBIA and the New Jersey Business Coalition held an online virtual town hall recently where businesspeople shared their COVID-19 stories and challenges. Legislators and members of the media, who were also on the call, heard firsthand the frustration businesses have with the executive orders, COVID-19 operating restrictions and red tape imposed on them at the same time they are fighting to survive.
The town hall also illuminated the challenges unique to specific industries, including restaurants, YMCAs, childcare centers, preschools, convention centers and more. The business owners and nonprofit leaders talked about what they need, and especially about what they do not need: a one-size fits all approach for all kinds of businesses, no matter where they are in New Jersey, creating unnecessary government hurdles as they struggle to hang on.
Alan Sobel, president of the New Jersey Society of CPAs, summed up the consensus of the more than 100 businesspeople and nonprofit leaders on the call when he said the state should issue basic safety standards to ensure public health, but it should allow business owners the flexibility to develop the open-for-business solution that works for their unique situation.
“The business owners I know and work with are very responsible and take the safety and well-being of their employees and customers very, very seriously,” Sobel said.
Let’s hope Gov. Phil Murphy and the Legislature hear this message. We have posted a playlist of New Jersey Business Coalition (NJBC) Town Hall video clips on the NJBIA YouTube page for anyone who missed it. And in the meantime, NJBIA will continue to fight on behalf of the businesses that need our advocacy at the State House now more than ever.
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