How COVID-19 is impacting local North Iowa businesses | Local

It’s been two years since COVID-19 first hit the United States, prompting mass shutdowns, closures and strict restrictions across the country. 

Two years later, things have largely opened back up, but COVID is still a major point of 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 issues as a result of the pandemic that have made his business more difficult to run than in years past. 

Frein cited numerous problems, but the has been issues with the supply chain. 

His business that requires a great deal of equipment that must be bought and shipped to Mason City. Frein has struggled to work around a lack of equipment from manufacturers and extended wait times for those 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 back ordered for two months,” Frein explained. “I like to use the phrase ‘it’s hard to build a house with no nails.'”

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In addition to supply chain issues, Frein notes that manufacturer quality control has become nearly non-existent.

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

Another problem experienced by Frein, and small businesses around the country, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is the lack of available workforce to fill open positions.  

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, on the final work day of December there were 10.9 million job openings across the country, a number “little changed” from November. 

The bureau also reports that the 6.3 million hires in the month December was a 333,000 decrease from the month of November. 

Frein is looking to hire two employees, something a bit easier to accomplish two years ago than today. 

“It’s been tough,” Frein said.  

For businesses looking to start up in 2021 and 2022, labor shortages present even larger hurdle than others. 

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

“I think the big thing we are trying to do is let people know that this is a consideration before starting your business,” Boehmler said. “However, there’s ways of bringing on employees.”  

Boehmler said that businesses have to get creative in ways to attract new employees, as sometimes money isn’t the only reason someone will leave one job for another.

“You have 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 just money, but a lot of it is what is this business doing to make them a part of the team.”

Frein, who started up his business several years ago partially with the help of the SBDC, agreed with that sentiment.

“You have to know what you’re getting yourself into,” Frein said. “Research ahead of time, but also be prepared to be flexible, because things don’t always go to plan. … The first two years of any small business are pretty rocky.”

Looking ahead to the future it remains to be seen how long COVID will continue to impact businesses, but Frein thinks there may not be any going back. 

“I don’t think it’ll ever go back to where it was,” Frein said. “It makes things more difficult, but for now, it is what it is.”

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

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