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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

California Small Business Owners Feel Optimistic

COVID-19 and gender gap issues pose challenges, but outlook for the future is positive

California small business owners went to great lengths to stay afloat through the pandemic, investing an average of $28,000 to operate within government guidelines and remain open during COVID-19, according to new research from Union Bank.

According to the Union Bank California Small Business Mid-Year Mindshift 2021 Survey, the top four COVID-19-related areas small business owners invested in were personal protective equipment (58 percent), cleaning and sanitization services (54 percent), marketing and advertising (45 percent) and e-commerce (41 percent).

Small businesses in the restaurant and hospitality sectors spent substantially more, investing an average of $74,000, focusing on cleaning and sanitization services (94 percent), delivery services (87 percent), personal protective equipment (85 percent), and updated signage (82 percent).

“California small business owners were hit especially hard and adapted to complex restrictions for longer periods of time than those in other states,” said Todd Hollander, head of Business Banking and Small Business Banking at Union Bank.  “But despite the challenges, many small businesses remained resilient and optimistic for the future.  At Union Bank, we’ve been working with small businesses for more than 150 years and we remain committed to helping them recover and thrive for years to come.”


Many small business owners in California said the pandemic had its silver linings, including improved business efficiencies (39 percent), the rewarding feeling of overcoming a challenge (37 percent) and solidifying their passion for what they do (31 percent).

They are moving forward with positivity and resilience. Six in 10 said they are currently optimistic, and 56 percent said they are more optimistic than they were in 2020. This positivity is particularly prevalent among younger business owners:

• 66 percent of business owners aged 18 to 34 said they feel positive
• 65 percent of those aged 35 to 54 said they feel positive
• 45 percent of business owners aged 55 and older said they feel positive

The most widely cited source of optimism among California small business owners was continued COVID-19 vaccine distribution, as 68 percent of respondents said they believe it will help their businesses. Among those in the restaurant and hospitality space, the federal stimulus package led the way (70 percent) as the biggest cause for optimism.


Women small business owners said their businesses were hit harder and felt particularly unsupported during the COVID-19 pandemic, which aligns with the overall disproportionate impact that women say the pandemic has had on them.

More women business owners said they felt powerless during the pandemic, with 64 percent saying they felt they had no control over the situation (versus 54 percent for men). They also reported higher median revenue losses: 50 percent revenue loss for women-owned businesses versus 35 percent for men.

Above all, compared to men, women who own small businesses said they invested far less in critical changes and adjustments to help their business remain open during the pandemic. On average, they invested only $17,000, compared to $38,000 invested by men. In fact, while 20 percent of men said they spent at least $50,000 on their businesses, only 7 percent of women did.

“We know from economic data that women were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic overall, and small business owners were no exception,” said Devon Barrack, Small Business Program director for Union Bank. “This year presented many unprecedented challenges for women as they simultaneously navigated complex personal, family and professional circumstances – and to top it off, underwhelming societal support. At Union Bank, we believe diverse small businesses are the economic center of their communities and we remain committed to helping them recover from this pandemic.”

Despite the clear gender gaps, women respondents said they remain optimistic
and positive. Optimism levels among men and women who own small businesses are comparable, with 63 percent of men and 58 percent of women saying their current outlook is positive.


In the last six months alone, optimism among small business owners has risen significantly. Last October, the Union Bank Small Business Mindshift 2020 Survey showed that only 23 percent of business owners nationally – and only 13 percent in California – could see a path to survival for their businesses, but now 61 percent have a positive outlook.

This aligns with COVID vaccine distribution being well underway. In October, before the vaccine was available, 31 percent of California business owners cited the vaccine as the most important factor to business success. And now, with half of American adults having received at least one dose of the vaccine, 68 percent of business owners said the ongoing distribution will help their small business survive.

A relationship with the local community is also key to small business survival post-pandemic. The survey found that more small business owners (41 percent) felt supported by their local communities, which was more than the percentage who said they felt supported by the federal government (31 percent), their state government (30 percent), their local county government (28 percent) or their local city government (28 percent).

The relationship is also getting stronger; 41 percent demonstrates an improvement since last October, when 33 percent of the earlier Mindshift Survey’s respondents reported feeling supported by their local community.

Additionally, in November, the Union Bank Small Business Holiday Spending 2020 Survey showed the importance of the relationship between small businesses and their communities. Forty-three percent of U.S. consumers said they were willing to spend $20 more on an item in order to support a small or local business, and 56 percent said they increased how much they shop and spend at small businesses to keep them afloat during the pandemic.

“Our research continues to demonstrate the critical value of the relationship between small business owners and their local communities,” Hollander said. “It’s our collective duty as community members to continue to uplift our local business owners as they navigate the long road to recovery.”

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