Southold's Economic Development Committee conducted a survey of town businesses...

Southold's Economic Development Committee conducted a survey of town businesses to assess how they were impacted during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic and may conduct additional surveys. Credit: Randee Daddona

Southold businesses listed labor, supply shortages, zoning regulations and housing for staff among the biggest challenges they encountered at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of a town survey.

The anonymous survey — which commenced last summer and concluded around October — was taken by about 37 businesses. It was conducted to assess how they were impacted during the pandemic, which started in early 2020, and what issues the business community needs addressed either via town policies or potential state or federal grant applications.

Jack O’Malley, chairperson of the town’s Economic Development Committee, told Newsday on Wednesday that though fewer businesses than expected took the survey, one of the biggest takeaways was the continuing labor shortage.

"We’re still suffering from that right now," O’Malley said. "Part of it might be that young people after they go to college and they leave…that’s part of what’s been going on for a long time here."

Other concerns and challenges the first year of the pandemic were supply shortages, zoning regulations, housing for staff, sales and traffic from the west, among others.

Of the businesses polled, 27.8% were maritime; 19.4% agriculture and aquaculture; 13.9% nonprofit; 8.3% construction and real estate; and the rest in the hospitality, retail and business and professional categories, according to survey results.

Approximtely 62.2% of businesses in the survey said they received government support such as loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. However, 59.5% of businesses said they saw sales increase over the past year, 27% said business remained about the same and 13.5% reported a decrease in sales.

The committee hopes to get more businesses to participate in a second survey this summer, O’Malley said. As part of that, the committee will look at stronger promotion efforts, including engaging the town board to promote the survey, supplementing it with interviews of larger employers and conducting focus groups.

Councilman Brian Mealy said the initial survey results are "a strong beginning" to possibly making the survey annual.

"We’re on constantly shifting sand, so if we know where we've been, we can kind of see where we’re going in terms of our business future," Mealy said.

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