Regional Chamber releases State of The Commerce results

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Regional Chamber releases State of The Commerce results

Mon, 08/06/2018 - 12:50pm -- katie

Vermont Business Magazine The purpose of the State of the Commerce Survey distributed on June 15th, 2018 by the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce to its membership was to hear from local businesses about how they are doing in the current economy, their needs and trends they see emerging.

“We asked for comments, engagement and feedback from our members, and they provided it,” reports Matt Harrington, executive director of the chamber.  “We need to appreciate their honesty, time spent and candidness.  We also have to decide what to do with the information that was reported in the survey.   Some of the feedback may be relevant to all; other feedback might be an isolated incident.  One benefit of creating this yearly report is to also help the chamber identify ways in which the organization can help.”

The chamber sent 348 survey questionnaires to chamber business members and received a 36% response rate (125 respondents).  Sixty-six percent of respondents identified as Bennington businesses, 19% from Manchester, 7% from Shaftsbury and the rest from area towns (the region is represented by 17 different towns).  In total 38% of respondents were from the Northshire and 86% from the Southshire with some businesses being located in more than one town.

Harrington continued, “This survey provided us with two approaches.  We have macro data, which looks at how members filled out the “bubbled” section as a whole.  This is great trending data for us to look at as the overall feeling of our business membership.  Equally, we have comment data.  We can find great insight in this data too.”

The industries that filled out this survey include 37 professional services (accounting, utility, medical), 16 education and nonprofits, 8 members based in the attractions, 20 in retail, 5 in housing and real estate, 10 in dining, 21 in lodging and 8 other.

Sixty-two percent of those responded rely on local customers; 42% rely on tourism and visitors; 22% are B2B – business to business.

On a letter grade scale of A to F, the chamber asked, “how do you feel your business or organization is doing in terms of current financial health?”  Sixty-three percent of respondents identified their current financial health as “Excellent - A” “Really Good – A-” or “Successful – B.” Twenty-four percent described current financial health as having “ups and downs.”  Eight percent reported that they are in trouble (10 respondents).

Sixty-three percent indicated that they are doing better today than three years ago.

When asked how businesses felt in general about doing business in the Shires of Vermont (Bennington County), 81% indicated that it’s a good place to have a business. Some of the comments noted that there are challenges including not enough qualified labor, lack of education related to hospitality industry, issues with acquiring permits and, in general, Vermont as being a difficult state to do business in and not business-friendly.

When it comes to business-friendly groups 87% of respondents (104) use the Bennington Area Chamber to support their business. Other top resources include local town government (28%), Bennington Downtown Alliance (23%), Manchester Business Association (18%), Vermont State government (18%) and the Bennington County Regional Commission (14%).

One respondent also noted, “the need for more information about how to be successful, the health of the industry, how many have tried and failed, why they failed, and benchmarks to help us access our success.” This is a way the chamber, as well as others, might be of help.

In terms of marketing, the chamber asked where businesses put most of their efforts and finances.  Thirty-one percent put most of their marketing effort into social media marketing (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, SnapChat, etc.).  Other respondents indicated they rely more on word of mouth and walk ins (19%) rather than print advertising (17%).  People indicated in the “other comments” section that their biggest investment is in their website and web marketing (e.g. Google ads).  Fifty-nine percent do online business and 40% do not.

In the next three years, 79% of respondents believe that The Shires will be a better place to have a business in the future.  Respondents often cited the Bennington downtown redevelopment of the Putnam Block as crucial to that future outlook.   An additional comment was made about the Opportunity funds from Montpelier, “If the right people are aggressive about pursuing Opportunity funds, it could mean multiple new businesses in the Bennington O-Zones.”  

Those that expressed concern about the next 3 years cite difficulty in finding qualified employees, continued “draining of the middle class,” reputation around drugs, higher cost of living, dependence on State economic development, and the decrease in “mom and pop” businesses.

Respondents identified their top 3 challenges as finding qualified employees (48%), marketing/awareness (46%), and healthcare costs (30%).

"Growth areas for the Chamber to consider based on the Commerce Survey feedback include using the chamber as a key resource and the need for the chamber to continually move into the role of business advocate," stated Harrington.  "Other growth areas include helping with marketing and awareness (including internet/web optimization), finding qualified applicants and improving the labor market.  A progressive thought that emerged was creating educational programs early on (in educational institutions) that support the workforce needs of local businesses.  We look forward to actualizing this data and feedback in real, practical initiatives in the future."

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

2018 Chamber “State of the Commerce Survey Results

The purpose of the State of the Commerce Survey distributed on June 15th, 2018 was hear from local businesses about how they are doing in the current economy, their needs, and the trends they see emerging. One benefit of creating this yearly report is to also help the chamber identify ways in which the organization can help. The summary of the feedback is included in this report.

Feedback

It’s important to remember that, “Feedback is a gift.”  We asked for comments, engagement and feedback from our members, and they provided it.  We need to appreciate their honesty, time spent and candidness.  We also have to decide what to do with it.   Some of the feedback may be relevant to all; other feedback might be an isolated incident or meant with a different intent.  We have the right to decide which and what data we want to acknowledge and what we want to do with it as administers of the survey.

Macro Data vs. Comment Data

This survey provides us with two approaches.  We have macro data, which looks at how members filled out the “bubbled” section as a whole.  This is great trending data for us to look at as the overall feeling of our business membership.  Equally, we have comment data.  We can find great insight in this data too.  However, we should note that these can be isolated incidences and should be taken at the value of a single data point (not a trend or overall feeling felt by the whole business industry).

Demographics

We sent 348 survey questionnaires to our chamber business membership and received a

36% response rate (125 respondents).  66% of respondents identified as Bennington businesses, 19% from Manchester, 7% from Shaftsbury and the rest from area towns.  In total 38% of respondents were from the Northshire and 86% from the Southshire with some businesses being located in more than one town.

The Industry Type breakdown is as follows:

    Professional services (accounting, utility, medical) 37

    Education/nonprofit/agency 16

    Attractions   8

    Retail/wholesale 20

    Housing/real estate   5

    Dining 10

    Lodging 21

     Other   8

     Total             125

 

Q9 (What type of customer does your business most rely on?):

  • 62% of those responding rely on local customers; 42% rely on tourism and visitors; 22% are B2B – business to business.

 

Current Business Climate

Q3 (“On a letter grade scale of A to F, how do you feel your business or organization is doing in terms of current financial health?”):

  • 63% of respondents identified their current financial health as “Excellent - A” “Really Good – A-” or “Successful – B.” 24% described current financial health as having “ups and downs.”   8% reported that they are in trouble (10 respondents).

 

Q4 (“Do you feel that your business or organization is doing financially better than it was 3 years ago?”):

  • 63% indicated that they are doing better today than three years ago.

 

Q5 (“Do you feel that in general the Shires of Vermont is a good place to have a business/organization?”):

  • 81% indicated that it’s a good place to have a business.
  • Some of the comments noted the following as important factors:
  • not enough qualified labor
  • lack of education related to hospitality industry
  • issues with acquiring permits
  • Vermont as a difficult state to do business in and not business-friendly (4 comments).
  • One respondent commented, “Vermont is the hardest state to do business.  I had offices in Mass, PA, St. Louis, MO and the business environment in VT is terrible compared to the other states.”

 

Q8 (What resources or entities do you use to support your business?):

  • 87% of respondents (104) use the Bennington Area Chamber to support their business.
  • Other top resources include
  • Local town government (28%)
  • Bennington Downtown Alliance (23%)
  • Manchester Business Association (18%)
  • Vermont State government (18%)
  • Bennington County Regional Commission (14%)  
  • Other interesting resources noted by individual responses were: Vermont Tourism Network, Vermont Attractions Association, Bennington Area Arts Council, New England Inns and Resorts, Welcome Center, AAA, Better Business Bureau, Fresh Network and Vermont Farm To Place Network, and the Vermont Crafts Council.
  • One respondent also noted, “the need for more information about how to be successful, the health of the industry, how many have tried and failed, why the failed, and benchmarks to help us access our success” as ways we, and others, might be of help.

 

Q10 (In terms of marketing, where do you put most of your effort/finances?):

  • 31% put most of their marketing effort into social media marketing (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, SnapChat, etc.).  
  • Other respondents indicated they rely more on word of mouth and walk ins (19%) than on print advertising (17%).
  • People indicated in the “other comments” section that their biggest investment is in their website and web marketing (e.g. Google ads).

 

Q12 (Does your business do any online business?):

  • 59% do online business and 40% do not, indicating that a number of businesses are not engaged in online business when they might be.

 

Future Forecast

Q6 (In the next three years, do you feel that in general Southern Vermont, Bennington County and/or The Shires of Vermont will be a better or worse place to have a business/organization?):  

  • 79% of respondents believe that The Shires will be a better place to have a business in the future.  
  • Respondents often cited the Bennington downtown redevelopment of the Putnam Block as crucial to the future.   An additional comment was made about the Opportunity funds from Montpelier, “If the right people are aggressive about pursuing Opportunity funds, it could mean multiple new businesses in the Bennington O-Zones.”  
  • Those that expressed concern about the next 3 years cite difficulty in finding qualified employees, continued “draining of the middle class,” reputation around drugs, higher cost of living, dependence on State economic development, and the decrease in “mom and pop” businesses.

 

Q7 (What are your top 3 challenges as a business or organization? ):  

  • Respondents identified their top 3 challenges as:
  • Finding qualified employees (48%)
  • Marketing/Awareness (46%)
  • Healthcare costs (30%)  
  • The second group of challenges was also insightful:
  • Taxes (30%),
  • Policy and Legislation (29%),
  • Product/Service development (11%).

 

Q13 (What additional services do you think would help your business or organization):

  • Hospitality training
  • Marketing training (best practice training on digital advertising and marketing)
  • More financing options and making capital more available
  • Increase modes of transportation (e.g. Uber, Lyft)
  • More and better activities to draw people from out of town
  • Best practices training
  • Better internet availability
  • Better trained workforce
  • Better State government
  • Improved image of towns and region (“clean up”)
  • Integrating arts with local business
  • Online seminars
  • Encourage more residents to “shop local”
  • Reasonable retail rent rates
  • Better and cheaper health care
  • Lower taxes, lower water and sewer rates
  • Cohesive marketing strategy and message

 

Growth Areas for the Chamber to Consider based on Commerce Survey Feedback

  • Given the high response of members using the chamber as a key resource, it points to the need for the chamber to continually move into the role of business advocate
  • State/economic partnerships (Q5, Q7)
    • Influence policies
    • Tax reform
  • Help with marketing and awareness (including internet/web optimization)
  • Find qualified applicants/labor market
  • Liaison with education to build programs that support the workforce needs of local businesses.

Click here to view State of Commerce Survey.