One-third of Dane County businesses might not be around next year, new survey says

MADISON, Wis.– Imagine one in every three Dane County businesses vanishing next year. A new survey suggests that’s not so far fetched.

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, Destination Madison, Downtown Madison, Inc., Madison Black Chamber of Commerce and Latino Chamber of Commerce polled 503 businesses in Dane County this fall. Among those businesses, most were small, diverse, local or minority-owned, according to a press release.

About 78 percent of businesses experienced a decline in revenue this year, with about one-third suffering losses greater than half, according to the survey.

One-third of businesses surveyed expect to close by June 2021 if government regulations don’t change, according to the survey.

“It’s going to take a long time for many of these businesses to come back and unfortunately, many of them will close,” Downtown Madison, Inc. President Jason Ilstrup said.

Between months of rising COVID-19 cases and experiencing property damage this Summer, Ilstrup said many businesses on State Street and around Capitol Square are looking for ways to stay open.

“It’s been difficult for them to plan and move forward,” Ilstrup said. “Many of them are asking questions about whether they can stay in business.”

Ilstrup said many of the advantages businesses found during the Summer months of the pandemic, including outdoor seating, will come to an end as temperatures continue to drop.

Local and small businesses contribute to making Madison unique, according to Ilstrup.

“We won’t recognize this community’s economy or business in the future if we don’t start collaborating now,” Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon said.

Brandon said the community needs to strike a better balance between public health, the economy and consumer and employee confidence.

More than 60 percent of businesses surveyed said consumer and employee confidence is its most pressing need, according to the press release.

Brandon said that local leaders are giving consumers mixed messages about what is safe and allowed.

“It doesn’t help if you say spend your money locally, and then at the same time say, but if you go out you’re going to have COVID,” Brandon said.

To turn these numbers around, leaders of the survey agree that all levels of government need to step in financially and vocally.

Destination Madison President and CEO Deb Archer said she thinks a coalition composed of business association representatives, public health officials, government officials from all levels, and local residents needs to form and find solutions.

She said each party needs to understand the problem from all sides before making decisions.

“We need to design a plan and if we can design it together it will be much more effective, efficient and a much higher level of success,” Archer said.

Consumers can provide immediate relief to businesses by keeping their dollar in this community, Archer said.

“We can make a huge impact very quickly,” Archer said.

Archer said all residents can help by asking local, state and federal government officials to move forward with relief funding.

Three percent of local businesses closed since the pandemic started, and one percent predict closing in about one month, according to the survey.

Survey results will be used to inform policymakers, according to the press release.