New Jersey companies expect to be hard hit by COVID-19

Hand sanitizer, cancelled meetings, work-at-home and travel bans among the new workplace realities

Anthony Vecchione//March 16, 2020//

New Jersey companies expect to be hard hit by COVID-19

Hand sanitizer, cancelled meetings, work-at-home and travel bans among the new workplace realities

Anthony Vecchione//March 16, 2020//

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An overwhelming number of companies in the state expect their businesses to be negatively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, according to the results of two separate surveys by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

NJ Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Bracken told NJBIZ that businesses in the state are concerned both personally and even more so business-wise.

“There is a huge amount of uncertainty and the fact that nobody knows when this going to subside, peak or end is probably playing into that,” he said.

Tom Bracken, president, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

Bracken said that the business community is intent on waiting for some kind of guidance.

“This isn’t business as usual and something very progressive and substantial needs to take place. We are going to get things under control and try to salvage some kind of normalcy.”

The survey further revealed that:

  • The most common action taken by respondents (more than two-thirds) is to institute hand sanitizers in the office and cancel meetings and conferences;
  • Slightly more than 58 percent of respondents instituted a complete or partial travel ban and almost half of these companies made the travel ban indefinite;
  • Two-thirds of respondents characterize the steps announced by the Murphy administration through March 13 as appropriate.

“I think we can characterize the business community as concerned but not in a panic about the coronavirus outbreak,” said Bracken. “The steps businesses have taken are rational and measured. The challenge our members will face going forward is managing their businesses in an environment of almost unprecedented uncertainty.”

The state chamber survey was conducted from the afternoon of March 13 the afternoon of March 15 with 183 members responding.

Businesses in need of assistance

The NJBIA survey found 93 percent of members who responded are either already negatively impacted by the coronavirus health crisis or anticipate being negatively impacted in the near future.

Most respondents also said they will need to cut costs due to coronavirus-related hardships, including a reduction of staff, hours, benefits and other remedies.

Members also described in detail their most critical issues, showing a vast number of impacts from businesses from varying industries.

“The concerns of our members are extremely clear during this unprecedented time,” said NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka. “They are highly concerned about the overall stability of their businesses and the welfare of their employees.

Michele Siekerka, president and CEO, NJBIA.
Michele Siekerka, president and CEO, NJBIA. – NJBIA

“We are pleased to see the efforts of our policymakers and our state agencies, thus far, to address the economic impacts the coronavirus is having on our job creators and their workers. As these plans and protections are gathered and expedited, it is critically important to recognize how the uncertainty and vulnerability of our employers impacts our overall economy in New Jersey.”

When asked to what extent has your business been negatively impacted by the coronavirus: 54 percent said they were already negatively impacted; 39 percent said they anticipate being negatively impacted in the near future; and 7 percent did not anticipate being negatively impacted.

When asked how they will respond to negative business impacts caused by the coronavirus 40 percent said they will need to reduce staff, 37 percent said they will need to reduce employee hours, 12 percent said they will need to reduce benefits and 24 percent said they will do nothing (respondents could select any or all options that applied).

Another 37 percent listed “other” additional remedies to accommodate the impacts including: needing to temporarily close; relying on personal savings and credit to pay bills; negotiating with vendors, landlords and utility companies; adjusting service levels; reducing expenses; increasing spending on cleaning and disinfecting; and increasing remote working.

In separate questions, a majority of respondents said they were unsure, at this juncture, whether they would need gap loans or waivers of workplace compliance requirements due to the fiscal impacts brought on by the response to the coronavirus.

Critical issues

NJBIA also asked members to explain what the most critical issues to their business are as the association works with policymakers and state agencies on responses to address the economic impacts of the coronavirus. A few notable entries from the hundreds of responses included:

  • “Trying to keep up with payroll, taxes, health ins., vehicle ins., fuel, worker’s comp ins., vehicle payments, vehicle registrations, and all state associated fees with licenses and registrations. If we can’t access the customer’s property and/or an employee gets the illness, this will put us out of business.”
  • “Besides health of employees, worry about supply chain interruptions. If say UPS goes down, how will I deliver products? What if my suppliers are closed?”
  • “Unable to provide home based services as usual.”
  • “Business customers and my employees being able to work if kids are home from school.”
  • “Personal protective equipment for my team of healthcare workers. We can’t get level 3 masks right now.”
  • “Cash flow if sales decline.”
  • “The phone has stopped ringing, people are not spending money.”
  • “Access to short-term financing.”
  • “As a supplier of printed material for many local NJ businesses, we are expecting a significant loss of revenue due to cancellations of events, trade shows, etc.”

Survey results were fielded from 336 respondents from March 13 through March 15. NJBIA will keep the survey open to its members to acquire additional input.