TAMU-CC Expert Part of Team Surveying South Texas Business Owners About Impact of COVID-19 Shutdown

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – As the Texas economy continues to reopen, experts at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi are part of a team surveying South Texas businesses to assess the impact of closing and the prospects of getting back to work.

This week, the South Texas Economic Development Center (STEDC), in conjunction with the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Center (CCREDC) and others, are conducting its third survey of businesses, focusing this time on the post-COVID-19 recovery.

“The COVID-19 business survey project is a collaborative work of a group of more than 70 community leaders across South Texas, including local governments, economic and workforce development agencies, and chambers of commerce,” said Dr. Jim Lee, Regents Professor of Economics and STEDC Director of Research.

Lee notes that even on month after Texas Governor Greg Abbott began reopening the economy on May 1, most businesses are still operating at limited capacity.

“This is the right time to launch a survey to assess not only the impact of the stay-at-home order in April, but also the needs and challenges of our local businesses moving forward,” Lee said.

Lee said in addition to social-distancing guidelines and other regulatory restrictions, reopening a business after a month of downtime is challenging. 

“Among other things, business owners will likely face difficulty rehiring their employees, let alone paying them,” Lee said. “To better prepare our business community for a full recovery, we need to inform policymakers about their immediate needs.”

The 18-question Business Assessment Survey is confidential and responses will only be reported in aggregate. The survey asks business owners and managers about their current operating levels and whether they have experienced disruptions in either domestic or foreign supply chains. It asks whether businesses are requiring customers and/or employees to wear face coverings or practice other safety protocols. Other questions are geared to assess the impact businesses have felt from the stay-at-home period, gauge hiring plans, and envision what steps companies may take to attempt to recover and return to normal.

“In the face of the rapid pace of the coronavirus outbreak and government responses to shut down businesses beginning in March, no one was certain about how our business community would evolve over time,” said Lee.

At the CCREDC, Vice President Christine Bryant has been a driving force in developing the surveys and managing the regional economic development groups that sponsor it. She also manages the group's efforts of the region’s coalition to gather and distribute the data.

Lee said that while local officials have been receiving advice on the coronavirus transmission from scientists at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, it is equally important that they stay informed of the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic and its policy responses.

“In the spirit of ‘we are in this together,’ this initiative helps fulfill both my own moral obligation and my social responsibility as an economics professional,” Lee said.

The current survey is the third in a series conducted by the collaborative working group. The surveys are intended to fill the information gap on current economic conditions, particularly local small businesses, in each community of this region. The findings will be used to provide feedback to public officials and other community leaders in the process of designing policy programs to mitigate the hardship that the pandemic has had on business owners and local citizens. 

“Beyond the Coastal Bend area, the findings of our first two surveys have caught the attention of state and federal officials, and even White House staff,” Lee said. “Our collective voice has been heard widely due in part to the broad representation of our region.”

Each of the past surveys generated about 900 returns from 10 counties in South Texas. Lee said the group is among the first to conduct COVID-19-related business surveys in Texas. 

“Together with an outsized exposure to the recent oil market crash, the reliance on tourism makes our region particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, which has paralyzed the travel and hotel industry across the nation,” Lee said. “For this reason, we must be ahead of the game, or else the region will stay behind the rest of the nation on the way to full recovery.”

The results of the third survey will be available in the second week of June. As with the previous surveys, experts will present the findings to government officials at all levels. 

“We hope the new survey findings will be as informative as those from our past surveys for public officials and other community leaders to make future policy decisions and recommendations,” Lee said.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Lee assisted the chambers of commerce in Rockport and other Coastal Bend communities with similar business survey projects. 

“Those data subsequently formed the basis of my research on community resilience,” Lee said. “Likewise, this series of surveys related to the impacts of COVID-19 will be key for future research in light of the worst economic crisis of this generation.”