March 9, 2021

Oregon Insight: Despite pandemic, businesses are, by and large, still in business

Here is The Oregonian’s weekly look at the numbers behind the state’s economy. View past…

Here is The Oregonian’s weekly look at the numbers behind the state’s economy. View past installments here.

Pok Pok, Le Bistro Montage, Bailey’s Taproom, the Sherwood Ice Arena, Kellogg Bowl.

Scores of beloved Oregon businesses permanently shut their doors during the pandemic, unable to endure the prolonged downturn as safety restrictions limited business – or customers simply stayed away.

With COVID-19 cases in steep decline since Jan. 15, though, and government restrictions easing, there’s reason for optimism that the pandemic’s ultimate toll on individual businesses may be less severe than many feared.

Bankruptcies were actually down last year, in Oregon and across the country, despite the sudden recession. And just 5% of bars and restaurants surrendered their Oregon liquor licenses in 2020. Only 6% of lottery retailers – typically bars — shut down.

Meanwhile, the total number of businesses registered with the Oregon Employment Department increased in the six months after the pandemic began – with an annual growth rate of 3.9%, a little faster than the growth rate in the 12 months before the pandemic.

What’s going on? Josh Lehner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis notes that small business income in the state was roughly flat last year. That’s largely because of the Paycheck Protection Program, which funneled $7 billion in forgivable loans into those small businesses.

“Absent the PPP, proprietors’ income fell nearly 20%, which is an apocalyptic drop,” Lehner wrote in a new analysis.

It’s been an excruciating year for businesses owners and many are just limping along, Lehner told lawmakers last month. It may be some time yet before people feel safe packing back into restaurants, bars, bowling alleys and movie theaters.

Still, it appears that a large majority of Oregon businesses have held up over the past year and for most, the worst may be behind them now.

“The fact that entrepreneurship has remained so strong means the total number of businesses in the economy will continue to increase,” Lehner wrote. “Replacing the economic role of the lost firms takes time as does finding a job at a different firm for the laid off workers, but this process is underway.”

— Mike Rogoway | [email protected] | twitter: @rogoway |