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UW-Oshkosh survey shows businesses prefer COVID-19 precautions that are easily reversible

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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – The results of a statewide survey by the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh show businesses mainly have adapted to pandemic safety precautions that are easily reversible through changes of work hours, physical barriers, and room layout.

“The majority of businesses responding to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s November COVID-19 business and economic impact survey reported introducing significant changes in their operations in the last several months,” says Jeffrey Sachse, interim director of UWO’s Center for Customized Research and Services (CCRS).

According to a release, businesses showed a 31% change in work hours, 21% addition of physical barriers, and 18% changes in layout. Many businesses suggested the last two were impractical given space limitations.

However, the survey showed two popular strategies for pivoting business operations, delivery services and e-commerce, remain remarkably low with only 10% of businesses adding each. Officials say this comes as growing national interest in these customer services has increased.

“The results here are not unexpected as there has been substantial guidance during the pandemic on the importance of space and limited contact. The adaptations that are the most popular are those that also are the easiest to reverse. Hours can be extended and barriers removed. Once a business establishes a completely new service, whether it is an e-commerce front-end or a delivery partnership, customers expect those services to continue even after their necessity wanes. This is a more difficult investment for most business owners to make,” says Sachse.

Nearly 480 Wisconsin businesses responded to the eighth survey administered by CCRS since the
pandemic began. Study respondents reported the following top-level impacts for October:

  • Inventory losses of $804,000
  • Income gains of $9.5 million
  • Wage and productivity losses of $1.8 million
  • Other financial losses of $5.2 million

Sachse says these results confirm the weaknesses that have been observed in other economic indicators, including consumer spending and consumer confidence.

Responding businesses also reported adding 52 new employees last month. This remains abnormally low in light of typical holiday season hiring, he added.

The November survey also showed continued concern regarding business survivability, with 30 percent of businesses reporting viability under six months with current conditions.

“We should expect these rates to increase given the increase in positive cases this month and calls for the resumption of business limitations and other controls,” Sachse said.

The survey is a partnership of UWO, the state’s nine Regional Development Organizations including New North Inc., and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The November results are reported from voluntary responses at a 5 percent margin of error.

The final survey of 2020 will be sent to a sample of 4,500 Wisconsin businesses beginning Dec 3.

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