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US business leaders optimistic about vaccine but suspicious as coronavirus spreads




Promising news about a coronavirus vaccine makes small business owners feel more optimistic despite the outbreak of virus cases in many parts of the United States

The owners hope consumers and businesses are more relaxed about the spending now that two drug companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have vaccines that data shows test very effectively. Some landlords are rethinking their plans, some are delaying downsizing, while others say they are more likely to renew their office leases even though the employees are still working from home.

But owners also realize that many hurdles remain: Vaccines have yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and it will take time for millions of doses to be manufactured and widely distributed. It is not known how many people will decide to receive the vaccine and, therefore, what proportion of the population would be immune to the virus.

Meanwhile, the pandemic shows no signs of abating as winter approaches, prompting some state and local officials to increase restrictions on gatherings in public and private places. And no matter what actions governments take, many people are limiting their activities because of fear of contracting the virus.

John Ross had been concerned about the possible slowdown in his company’s revenues in the coming months, so he considered transferring three of his 10 employees to part-time status and relinquishing his office when the lease is renewed in March. News about the vaccine has encouraged Ross, CEO of online education company Test Prep Insight, not to undergo any major changes.

I fully expect this vaccine news to give consumers the same confidence that I have felt. Hopefully that means a faster and stronger recovery, says Ross, whose company is based in Auburn, Calif.

Ross, whose website offers reviews of test preparation materials for college and graduate school entrance exams and bar exams, has kept earnings steady by offering discounts. With these price reductions expiring soon, he feared that students and their parents would have less incentive to buy. Many tests were canceled in the first months of the outbreak and it is not yet clear whether the resurgence of the virus will lead to more cancellations.

Ross is more optimistic now, but still cautious he won’t decide for sure on his office lease until more is known about the vaccine.

The pandemic has particularly affected small businesses. They don’t have the same cash reserves and access to lines of credit that large businesses do to help offset declining income. While it is not known how many businesses closed permanently during the pandemic, based on an estimate released by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the spring, the real number is likely well in the hundreds of thousands. . Additional government restrictions could put more businesses at risk.

The vaccines won’t come tomorrow, it’s going to take a while, says Michael Goldberg, professor of entrepreneurship at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. It’s going to be hard.

Gregg and Arlene Humble are caught in this standoff. The vaccine news gives the couple hope that Humble Travel in Cedar Falls, Iowa will reach their 60th birthday in 2021. But they are also worried as revenues are only 10% of what they were before. the pandemic.

Les Humbles closed a satellite office in West Des Moines in July, laid off three employees and cut other costs when it looked like there was no end in sight to the outbreak. They were able to get financial help from the government, including a paycheck protection program loan, and that helps them own the building in which the travel agency is located.

Gregg Humble believes people would start booking trips in 2021 and 2022 if they expected to be vaccinated.

Having a COVID-19 vaccine available makes the decision to keep Humble Travel open much more of a viable proposition, he says.

In the meantime, recent data shows that air travel in the United States is still down about 65% from a year ago and hotel occupancy rates remain below 50%.

If it drags on past the end of March, and you don’t see a big uptick in business, it will be much more difficult, says Humble.

Graham Cooke and his business partner Jordan Griffith founded Caf Last, a retailer of espresso machines and coffee grinders for the home and restaurants, over the summer. They sell online, but have had to defer leasing a warehouse and hiring staff to staff it.

The vaccine news makes Cooke more optimistic about the fledgling company’s future, but also raises a new set of questions.

With the news of a vaccine on the horizon, we have to make some serious decisions. Are we moving into a shop window? Continue to sell online? Even if there is a vaccine, will people even get it? What is the future of catering? Cooke said.

For now, Cooke and Griffith run the business away from home; sales are split between restaurants and consumers.

When the pandemic forced Cardinal Education to close its offices in Burlingame and Woodside, Calif., CEO Allen Koh decided to sublet the Woodside site to reduce overhead costs. The company, whose services included tutoring and school admission counseling, had moved all of its operations, including its work with students online in March.

News about the vaccine is causing Koh to reconsider subletting. Children and their parents like to come to the offices not only for the services of the company, but also as a gathering place, and now it seems that they can visit again.

We think there’s going to be a real need for physical space, but it’s such a cost center and such a burden right now, Koh says.

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