GREAT FALLS — It has been almost two years since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States, devastating many small businesses — but owners and staff are looking toward a brighter future.
The Great Falls Development Authority (GFDA) recently shared a COVID Industry Impact Report that details the local industries that were impacted by the pandemic. According to the GFDA, the report estimates that employment in Cascade County will return to pre-pandemic levels by mid-to-late 2022.
However, there will be challenges ranging from inflation to supply chain that can still impact businesses.
"We are heartened by the fact that the data does suggest that we will have pre-pandemic employment levels by the third quarter of this year, which is a fantastic recovery, but there are challenges that we face as a community. We do need to attract more talent in our community to face some of these workforce issues. We will also have some housing and childcare issues that every community in the country is facing, but it's how we come together as a community to face those that will be our success." - GFDA spokesperson Jolene Schalper
Hope during times of uncertainty is one of the many challenges when running a business, and that's how it is for Ferrin's Furniture in downtown Great Falls.
"Business has been busy, so that's really nice, but a lot of delays in shipments, products are taking a while, so the biggest thing is to try to keep stuff in stock," Ferrin's Furniture co-owner TJ Ferrin said. "It's been busy, but delays in everything."
"I think there's a good future ahead. Everything should start to level out a little bit, and once we get more employment and trucks back on schedule, things like that, it will get much better," Ferrin continued.
The restaurant industry has its own unique set of challenges it faces.
"One of the big changes that we've noticed is the influx of people wanting to stay home, so a larger amount of carry-out orders and delivery services, namely DoorDash, which has become a really big factor for us," noted The Burger Bunker and Grinders Soups & Subs owner John Williams. "I think it's about up to 25 percent of our business."
In terms of the future of their business, Williams continues to have hope, but in the case of running a business, preparing for the worst is just part of the day-to-day duties.
"We'd like to see a little uptick. I think generally speaking the population age of Great Falls, you're seeing people that are a little more reluctant to get out," Williams noted. "It's definitely a more older crowd, but I'd like to see an increase, but if there's another variant...we'll see down the pipeline."