How COVID-19 Affects Local Businesses in North Iowa | Local
How COVID-19 Affects Local Businesses in North Iowa |  Local

How COVID-19 Affects Local Businesses in North Iowa | Local

It is two years since COVID-19 first hit the United States, leading to mass shutdowns, closures, and severe restrictions across the country.

Two years later, things have pretty much reopened, but COVID is still a major concern for all Americans, and local businesses are still struggling to stay afloat.

Lucas Frein, the owner of Frein Audio & Technology in Mason City, has had a host of problems as a result of the pandemic that has made his business harder to run than in previous years.

Frein mentioned several problems, but there have been problems with the supply chain.

His business requires a lot of equipment to be purchased and shipped to Mason City. Frein has struggled to circumvent manufacturer shortages and extended waiting times for these products.

“Something that used to take two days to get now takes two weeks. Something that you used to be able to get is now backordered for two months,” Frein explained. “I like to use the phrase ‘it’s hard to build a house without nails’.”

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In addition to supply chain problems, Frein notes that the manufacturer’s quality control has become almost non-existent.

“I would say that between 10 and 15% of the new, out-of-the-box peripherals we get have something wrong with them or do not work at all,” Frein said. “It just puts the timeline of the projects even further back when this happens.”

Another problem that Frein and small businesses around the country are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is the lack of available labor to fill vacancies.

According to US Bureau of Labor and Statisticson the last working day in December, there were 10.9 million job openings across the country, a figure “slightly changed” from November.

The agency also reports that the 6.3 million employees in December were a decrease of 333,000 from the month of November.

Frein is looking to hire two employees, something that is a little easier to achieve two years ago than it is today.

“It’s been tough,” Frein said.

For companies looking to start up in 2021 and 2022, labor shortages are an even bigger obstacle than others.

Brook Boehmler, director of the North Iowa Area Small Business Development Center (SBDC), said that if you are looking to start a business in 2022, you better be prepared with manpower before you even open your doors.

“I think the big thing we’re trying to do is let people know that this is a consideration before you start your business,” Boehmler said. “However, there are ways to hire employees.”

Boehmler said companies need to be creative in ways to attract new employees, as money is sometimes not the only reason someone will leave one job for another.

“You need to have a good story for why someone should join your business,” Boehmler said. “You think a lot of people are willing to switch for money only, but a lot of it is what this company does to make them part of the team.”

Frein, who started his business several years ago partly with the help of SBDC, agreed with this position.

“You need to know what you’re getting into,” Frein said. “Research in advance, but also be prepared to be flexible, because things do not always go according to plan … The first two years of any small business are pretty rocky.”

Looking to the future, it remains to be seen how long COVID will continue to impact companies, but Frein believes there may be no going back.

“I never think it will return to where it was,” Frein said. “It makes things harder, but for now that’s what it is.”

Zachary Dupont covers policy and business development for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at 641-421-0533 or [email protected]. Follow Zachary on Twitter at @ZachNDupont

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