New survey finds growth, succession planning and cybersecurity are top priorities for WA businesses

SPOKANE, Wash.—Attracting new customers, planning for retirement and protecting against cyberattacks emerged as three top-of-mind priorities for small business owners in a new small business needs assessment commissioned by the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Washington State Department of Commerce.

The survey, which was conducted by Washington State University’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center (SESRC), collected data from more than 1,100 businesses across the state between March 1 and July 8 to determine how small businesses in Washington adjusted to statewide COVID-19 restrictions and how those businesses were faring two years after the start of the pandemic.

The survey also sought to better understand the specific needs of small business owners in the state, and which resources the SBDC and other state agencies/departments could offer to best assist them.

“Anecdotally we knew that the pandemic affected some businesses much more than others, but this survey gives us a way to look at effects by industry and by region so that we can make plans to better serve the small business community,” said Duane Fladland, state director of the Washington SBDC.

“As we dig into the data, we are particularly interested in what kinds of assistance business owners are looking for and where the gaps are,” Fladland said. “We know timely technical assistance can change the trajectory of business growth or recovery, so we want to make sure we are truly serving the needs of small business owners across the state.”

“Supporting small businesses ensures an equitable economic recovery for local communities and the state as a whole,” said Linda Womack, Commerce Managing Director of Small Business and Community Engagement. “This data will be extremely helpful to better understanding and taking a holistic approach to new assistance, as well as our current programs and resources, so that we deliver maximum benefit for Washington’s small business owners.”

Key takeaways from the survey include:

The top four areas of COVID-19 impact as indicated by survey respondents:

71% — loss of sales or cash-flow
57% — difficulties getting supplies
47% — complying with customer and worker safety measures
33% — difficulties finding and keeping employees

The top five areas of assistance needed coming out of the pandemic as indicated by survey respondents:

45% — finding new customers
44% — increasing sales
43% — planning for retirement
43% — protecting their business from cyberattack
40% — setting goals for growth

The survey instrument of 156 items was developed as an online web survey, a paper postal mail-back survey and as a telephone interview script. It was also translated into Spanish and Chinese. Researchers identified 11 commercial sectors and 12 regions of the state as population parameters for the study to ensure data was collected from every county and diverse industries. Researchers also worked to ensure that women business owners and racial/ethnic minorities would be included in the survey.

The survey was sent to more than 7,000 businesses and fully or partially completed surveys were returned by 1,193 business owners, resulting in an 18.1% response rate. While the survey did not specifically attempt to measure business closures, 9.2% of the businesses selected for participation had closed and were no longer in operation at the time of contact.

The Washington SBDC is a network of more than 47 business advisors working in communities across the state to help business owners start, grow or buy/sell a business. The SBDC provides no-cost, confidential, one-to-one advising on any area of business development and in just about any industry. The Washington SBDC has been hosted by Washington State University since 1981 and receives funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), WSU, other institutions of higher education and economic development and the Washington State Department of Commerce.

Executive Summary
Technical Assistance Needs by Industry Sector & Demographics

Duane Fladland, [email protected], 509-358-7763
Hope Tinney, [email protected], 509-432-8254