Small Businesses: Trade, Tech Key to COVID Recovery

FedEx recently released survey results, finding that small businesses largely view both trade and tech as essential to their economic recovery from COVID-19. Business leaders would like to see expanded trade between the U.S. and other countries as they believe this creates opportunity and jobs here in our country. This 2020 Trade Index survey polled 1,000 business leaders.

“The results of the FedEx Trade Index remind us that, even in times of global uncertainty, small businesses overwhelmingly value the opportunities for growth and access to new markets that are made possible through global trade,” said Brie Carere, executive vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for FedEx. “In 2020, small businesses are adapting rapidly to embrace e-commerce and extending their reach to new consumers beyond their borders. Small businesses believe in the benefits of modern free trade agreements to enable their growth.”

The survey found that 82 percent of U.S. small business decision makers think international trade will improve the overall economy, and 75 percent of them think it will create opportunities and jobs. At the same time, 70 percent of those polled who have engaged in international trade said regulations presented a barrier to their international e-commerce business.

Forty-seven percent of small business leaders polled indicate that they have invested in new technology since the pandemic began; 74 percent say it has created better customer experiences; while 71 percent said it has created better employee experiences.

Sixty-six percent of small businesses polled said they have developed new communication strategies about mask and social distancing requirements, with over half (51 percent) saying they have changed to temporary remote work. Forty-three percent have had a hiring freeze, while 31 percent have furloughed employees. Twenty-seven percent went so far as to lay off employees.

Thirty-one percent applied for a new loan or grant, while 26 percent switched to working remotely on a permanent basis. Twenty-four percent changed employee benefits, and 19 percent hired more employees.

Eighty percent said having a clear plan for in-person interactions is very important for success, beating out all other factors, including customer tech, employee tech, training, transitioning to a different model, allowing remote work, having a clean travel plan, etc.

The poll was conducted in late September. An additional survey was performed in Canada to complement the FedEx Trade Index and account for two of the three markets in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which went into effect over the summer. FedEx found that 91 percent of U.S. small businesses are supportive of it, and 86 percent of Canadian small business leaders are as well.

Eighty-five percent of small businesses in the United States said that programs addressing job retraining and skills upgrading should be a priority to help the U.S. compete on a global level.

Though many businesses are still behind in terms of digital marketing strategies, it is clear that they are optimistic about what international trade and new technologies will be able to do for them (despite the risks). Look for these to be major factors in small business growth in the coming year.

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