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Cape Cod business owners report the extent of pandemic-related impacts

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to significantly impact Cape Cod's economy. As the regional planning agency for Barnstable County, the Cape Cod Commission is committed to supporting our towns and business community as we address the challenges of the pandemic and strengthen our economic resiliency. In June 2020, the Commission was awarded a U.S. EDA CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to support efforts to respond to, and recover from, the devastating economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and develop strategies to improve resilience in the future. 

The Commission partnered with the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce to collect information on the economic impacts to local businesses and non-profits. Each survey had between 370 to 450 respondents, representing every town and the major industries on Cape Cod. 

Cape Cod businesses were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Public health concerns, restrictions around travel, and the timing and nature of closures impacted most local businesses and non-profits. However, survey results indicated that many Cape Cod businesses were able to adapt their business models once the reopening phases began, accommodating social distancing by leveraging outdoor space, adopting online ordering options, and adjusting work hours or staffing. 

Survey results showed that over 80% of respondents reported losses in the second quarter of the year, compared to 2019; more than a third of respondents’ losses were over 75%. During the summer, businesses rebounded, though nearly 30% of respondents still reported Q3 and Q4 losses of 50% or more. 

Unprecedented levels of unemployment peaked in the County at 21.5% in April 2020. Outer Cape towns were especially affected, with a local unemployment rate of 35.4% in Provincetown in the same monthBusinesses continue to be impacted by federal restrictions placed on the H1-B and J1 visa (BridgeUSA) program on which many seasonal employers rely. Other employees have not returned to work due to health and safety concerns or because expanded unemployment benefits exceed their income. Ultimately, though, the federal stimulus response – especially the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) – facilitated maintaining the workforce at many local businesses, with a high rate of successful PPP applications mitigating more layoffs and furloughs.  

Over the course of the three surveys, the length of time respondents expected to be able to operate with current cash flow and reserves increased. In May, 10% of respondents anticipated being able to operate indefinitely, with only another 10% expecting to remain open another year; by January 2021, 21% of respondents anticipated operating indefinitely with another 17% able to remain open at least a year.  

Despite high levels of uncertainty, Cape Cod continues to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic. Recovery efforts will carry on well into 2021. The findings of this research will inform regional economic recovery efforts, and have been leveraged in the development of a series of business recovery planning workshops hosted by the Cape Cod Commission and small business consultant Revby. 

Detailed results can be found on

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