MANCHESTER, N.H. – The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how businesses across the world function. On Friday, Congressman Chris Pappas (D-NH) gathered several New Hampshire small business owners for a roundtable on how those changes are affecting their businesses as well as what they think should come next.
Led by New Hampshire Tech Alliance Senior Director of Startup Initiatives Joshua Cyr, the hour-long virtual roundtable revealed some of the struggles these entrepreneurs are facing in the pandemic community.
For Jennifer Joyce, President and CEO of SpotOn/OnPoint Systems in Bedford, the pandemic has made it difficult to attract new entry-level employees. She said that despite offering $20 to $30 an hour, some prospective applicants are telling her they can make more money off unemployment benefits.
Pappas responded that negotiations are underway in the next COVID-19 relief legislation to help people who are still unable to work through no fault of their own while providing incentives to get non-essential workers back into their jobs.
“If you can safely return to your job if a job is available, that’s where we want you to be,” said Pappas.
Joyce also indicated that child care was an issue for many of her employees, with the possibility of remote or partially-remote education forcing employees with children, particularly women, to act as care givers during work hours.
“It’s great to open up the country and open up business, but 50 percent of the workforce is burning the candle at both ends,” she said.
With each business, different struggles have come to the forefront. Kanisha Wijayasiri, co-founder of the Windham-based Lucky & Me Inc., says that supply chain disruptions and the subsequent need for additional cash flow to react to those disruptions has caused problems. Steve Baines, CEO of Manchester-based Forcivity, has said the pandemic has forced prospective clients such as hospitals and universities to push back proposed projects.
“Carbon reduction was a big, big thing until the pandemic,” said Baines. “Now I don’t want to say that nobody cares, but it’s been sent to the backburner.”
However, the impact of pandemic has not been uniform across all industries or even within industries.
Geno Miller is Co-Founder and CEO of Shtudy, a startup in Manchester’s Millyard that helps tech companies find qualified software applicants with a focus on applicants from minority communities.
He says he’s found that companies he’s talked to have varied on how they’re reacting to the pandemic when it comes to bringing on workers.
“Some companies who may be a bit more early stage are more careful about spending cash, some companies who are larger employers or are in niche markets are actually benefiting from COVID-19 and scaling up right now,” said Miller, whose company is still in the beta stage.
Although the pandemic has caused pain and disruption, some participants said the change has created silver linings such as a greater appreciation for the emotional health of employees and an opportunity to spend more time with family due to the flexibility of remote working.
Members of the panel also had varied opinions on what would be needed next. Miller said that workplace culture would become more vital to keep remote workers incentivized. Wijayasiri said that disconnecting healthcare from employment would become more vital. Joyce said that even though the pandemic has made it difficult to find entry-level workers, the acceleration of remote working has actually made it easier to find applicants for higher-level jobs that do not have to be done on-site.
Pappas ultimately referred to the changes that will be needed to create the needed broadband access for remote employment, telemedicine and remote learning as the 21st Century version of rural electrification projects brought forth during the New Deal.
“Clearly, we’ve got to think of the future, and I think one of the things we’re appreciating during this pandemic is not only how things are appreciating in the short run, but the long term,” he said.
CORRECTION: Steven Baines was replaced by Steven Gaines.