(August 26, 2020)
The pandemic is not hitting everyone the same way.
In Santa Barbara County, the leisure industry lost almost a quarter of its workforce, while the service industry shrank by more than 22 percent. Retail lost more than 15 percent of its workers, and Kathy Odell, the CEO of Women’s Economic Ventures, said about two-thirds of WEV’s clients say they’ve had to lay people off.
“Women are getting hit harder because more of them are in leisure, hospitality, personal care and service businesses,” Odell said. “Because so many of those businesses are dominated by women, we know women are being hit harder.”
And for those who are still working, the problem of childcare continues. Heidi Rhys, the president of National Association of Women Business Owners-California Central Coast, was working while helping her children get through their first day of back-to-school distance learning.
“You have an extra job when kids are at home,” Rhys said. “You are now the teacher and the tech person while trying to juggle work calls. It’s bananas.”
Rhys knows some businesses that have closed temporarily, because state regulations stop them from reopening, but also some that have completely boarded up their windows. She also knows people who have completely pulled out of businesses and projects they were starting because of the crisis.
“Every woman-owned business has been affected,” Rhys said. “Either by closure, by regulations or by the feelings of people concerned about the economy.”
There is some assistance out there for women-owned businesses. NAWBO and WEV have both converted their networking and seminar meetings into online events designed to help business owners navigate their way through the pandemic. WEV provided quick-response loans and is now doing restart loans for businesses affected by the pandemic, and business owners don’t need to be a member of WEV to access that assistance.
Odell said WEV also expanded its advisory hours so it can work with more companies to re-evaluate business plans, financial status and how the company plans to make it through the pandemic.
WEV often works with women- and minority-owned businesses, and Odell is nervous for them, even as the organization tries to help them ride out the crisis.
“They’re hanging on by a thread right now,” Odell said.
Many businesses have been able to reopen by moving their operations outside, especially restaurants and personal care services. Still, Odell warned that moving outdoors is only a temporary solution. The weather usually works for business owners in the summer, when skies are clear and the temperature is usually agreeable, but as it gets closer to November and December the area will see cooler, rainier seasons.
Any further stimulus aid from the government will also affect how area businesses are able to cope with the current health crisis.
If there’s a bright side, it’s that the crisis is encouraging business owners to think about how they can work more efficiently, and part of that is by working with others. Some WEV clients are teaming up to combine marketing campaigns, while others are working together to cross-promote each other’s products. The organization is encouraging the networking and has helped foster a network among its clients.
“The pandemic has really brought the community together to support local businesses,” Odell said.
And it’s not just support from other business owners. Many area restaurants have seen heavy local traffic, which Odell called a wonderful sign of support. During a tourist season when travelling is heavily discouraged, having residents eat and shop close to home is keeping the lights on for many local businesses.
“The businesses people have always assumed will just be there need their support to stay in business,” Odell said.