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Surveying Small Businesses: COVID & Reopening the Kansas Economy

Kansas business members of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) were asked questions regarding their actions and expectations about the COVID crisis. The questions aim to gauge the level of urgency these businesses face in reopening and their greatest concerns moving forward; this paper summarizes and contextualizes their responses. The data suggests that most of the concern lies generally with getting customers back and dealing with customer relations as they resume operations.
• 74% of businesses thought that the closing of non-essential business was too restrictive.
• 40% of businesses don’t expect to return to pre-crisis levels of economic activity this year.
• 57% of businesses felt that property tax or income tax relief was more important than a reduction of regulations to help rebound.
• 60% of businesses are concerned most about “getting customers back.”
• 62% of businesses think that complying with COVID guidelines will not be difficult.
• 70% of businesses are concerned about increased liability.
• 76% of businesses were fearful or uncertain that there will be permanent closures of businesses within their industry within Kansas (48% yes, 28% uncertain, and 24% no).
• Appendices 3 and 4 have free response comments from businesses.

This survey was conducted at a time of extreme policy uncertainty as Governor Kelly began the process of phasing out her statewide lockdown. Known as the “Ad Astra” plan, the reopening outline allowed Kansas businesses and activities to reopen in “Phases.” However, the implementation of the “Ad Astra” plan became “chaotic.” Kansas businesses had to contend with a never-before-seen “Phase 1.5,” and then after that an aptly named “Modified Phase 2.” Then, roughly three weeks into the “Ad Astra” plan, Governor Kelly removed all enforcement to follow it. Now Governor Kelly has established a task force to plan a faster economic recovery for the state. This survey provides insight into how Kansas businesses can take action and help bring about a full economic recovery.

Kansas businesses seem confident that they can open safely. The general sentiment from the data was that the shutdown was too restrictive and unfair to small businesses. Businesses seem optimistic about dealing with the details of reopening but wonder if customers will be there when they do. If the healthcare system has reached a point where it can handle new cases with proper treatment, then the economy should reopen with individuals choosing the level of protection that they think is right for their circumstances.

At the county level, a gradual reopening with potential delays only makes for more uncertain decision-making and a prolonged recovery for the economy. The survey responses suggest that government restrictions on private activity, absent transparent and objective benchmarks, are creating uncertainty that is expected to lead to permanent business closures within various industries. There is already a tremendous amount of uncertainty regarding liability from new COVID cases; although this may have been mitigated by new state law passed after the survey was completed. Businesses are confident they can implement measures to reduce exposure but fear that “one case” offers  significant risk. This type of fear will ultimately lead to fewer start-ups and government policy should try to head off these concerns where it can.