SOUTH PORTLAND — South Portland Economic Development is expanding its communication efforts to help businesses navigate through the changes brought on by the pandemic, Director William Mann said.

South Portland released a Quarter 4 COVID-19 Impact Report on March 30. According to the news release, 73 businesses responded to survey questions between November and December of 2020.

The survey reflects data from 22 percent of businesses that received an emailed invitation, said Mann.

Of the responses, 84 percent of businesses said they are open currently, according to the data. Two businesses, 3 percent of those surveyed, had closed permanently.

City of South Portland Courtesy image

The survey reflected uncertainty, the report said. When asked if they expected to reduce operations in the next three to six months, 18 businesses replied, “yes” and 24 businesses said, “no.” Twenty-two businesses said they were unsure.

The majority of businesses that answered the survey said that they did not have to implement layoffs, but 17 businesses said they did and expect to remain at the current staff level. Two businesses said they expect more layoffs.

According to the report, South Portland created a Business Retention and Expansion program, funded through the Keep Maine Healthy 2020 Municipal COVID-19 Awareness Campaign Funding. One of the program’s goals is to connect with the business community.

The survey shows that although some businesses that responded have been forced to close or cut back on hours, many are able to adapt to the new environment.

“The majority of the businesses were able to either stay open or after a brief period of closure, they were able to return to full operations,” Mann said. “Sadly, unfortunately, some of our businesses were forced to reduce hours or close and a few have had to close permanently. But the good news is the majority of businesses were able to weather the challenge with a number of challenges along the way, but some of the assistance made available at the local, state and federal level, I think, helped a great deal.”

South Portland Economic Development hopes that businesses will reach out if they are in need of assistance, Mann said. Even if the department cannot help, it can point businesses in the direction of regional, state or federal businesses.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re reaching out and trying to get businesses in the community assistance that is available, making sure they’re aware it’s available and where we can help and we’re trying to help and that businesses are persevering through this,” said Mann. “We are endeavoring to deepen our connection to our business community and make sure that as new information and programs are available, we are making them aware of it both through social media, our website, email communications and in our conversations with members of the business community.”

The city is evolving into the next phase of communications with businesses, Mann said.

“As the pandemic took hold a year ago, we were just at the front end of developing a three-year community marketing effort and that got paused as it seemed appropriate to pause given the world we were planning to outreach to was evolving so rapidly,” he said. “The world that existed pre-pandemic and the world that exists today are obviously changed but we’ve gotten to the point where we’re finalizing that plan. All of these involve on-going heightened communication with our business residents.”

With a greater reliance on technology, South Portland Economic Development has tried to stay connected to businesses, Mann said.

“We’re also making sure that not only resources are available locally, but at the regional, state or federal level, from different sources,” he said. “When I say resources, it doesn’t mean money. it could also mean training. It could also mean facilitating a forum of businesses in a certain sector to see how some of their peers have dealt with similar issues because it’s always good to be able to chat with other folks. Though everyone’s individual experience is unique, there are probably some themes of, ‘Yeah, I’m experiencing that, too.'”

If businesses are looking for general questions or business support, they can email [email protected], Mann said. People can also visit the department on Facebook for updates @sopoecodevo.

“If anyone has a need that they think the city can help with, and regardless of whether we can or whether we can’t, we’d be happy to get their question and see if we can either get them some assistance or point them in the right direction,” Mann said.

Mann said that South Portland Economic Development wants to have contact information for every business in South Portland, about 1,600 businesses in total. So far, the department has about two-thirds of business information and the survey helped gather additional information.

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