Insights to Fuel Rural Planning and Development

Date: July 13, 2021

Author: Alex Petric—Rural Data Analyst at ROI

Data is a critical component in addressing needs, spurring discussion, and planning for growth. Statistics Canada manages the Canadian Survey on Business Conditions (CSBC) each quarter to gather Canadian business data on how COVID-19 has impacted businesses, how businesses have responded to changes, and what businesses expect for the future. On July 6th, the Rural Ontario Institute hosted a webinar where Marina Smailes, Andrew Balcom, and Haaris Jafri from Statistics Canada presented findings from the CSBC.

Figure 1: Downtown Newmarket, Ontario. 

CSBC results are available on Statistics Canada’s website and datasets for 2021’s second quarter include data on rural and urban businesses for Canada and for each province. While there is too much data to cover in just one blog post, below are a few important takeaways.

The CSBC results suggest that Ontario’s rural areas showed some advantages for businesses during the pandemic. Among rural businesses, 16.9% expected their number of employees to increase over the next 3 months, compared to 10.1% of urban businesses. Across Canada, these figures were 13.4% and 12.2%, respectively. In addition, 24.5% of Ontario’s rural businesses expected sales to increase, compared to 16.3% of urban ones. For all of Canada, these figures were 19.8% and 18.5%, respectively. 

Figure 2: Rural businesses report more optimistic attitudes in 2nd quarter, 2021

Businesses were also asked how long they could continue current operations before laying off staff. In Ontario, 68.7% of rural businesses reported that they could continue for a year or more (the longest option available), while 58.6% of urban businesses reported this. Across Canada, these figures were 67.1% and 60.4%, respectively. In a recent report on COVID-19 business impacts, Statistics Canada also found that rural businesses in Canada were more likely to remain fully operational than urban businesses (47.7% to 38.6%) and they were less likely to lose a tenth or more of their revenue (45.8% to 57.4%). These impacts are likely due to lower population densities in rural areas which allow residents to practice social distancing and reduce community spread of COVID-19.

However, the CSBC also highlights concerns for rural areas. Filling staff positions is an ongoing challenge in some rural communities, and the data reflects this. In Ontario, 61.3% of rural businesses said that finding qualified workers was somewhat or very challenging, compared to 46.4% of urban businesses. While many rural businesses have adapted to pandemic restrictions, longer-term issues remain that policy must address to keep rural businesses and communities thriving.

Figure 3: Rural businesses face challenges with high-speed connectivity and finding qualified workers

Many businesses shifted online, and some struggled to get connected. In Ontario, 45.8% of rural businesses said that ensuring high-speed connectivity was somewhat or extremely challenging, compared to 24.8% of urban businesses. This aligns with Statistics Canada’s recent report on business impacts, which found that only 6.3% of rural businesses made at least 30% of their sales online in 2020, compared to 13.2% of urban businesses. There is a clear need for broadband investments to help rural businesses access the customers and communities they serve.

The above statistics show that rural areas can be resilient when facing economic shifts like the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural businesses in Ontario and across Canada have performed well compared to their urban counterparts, and they have reasons to be hopeful about the future. However, long-term challenges for rural areas—like getting high-speed internet connection and finding employees—still need to be addressed. Much more data from the CSBC is available for use by the public, and ROI plans to continue providing analysis to support rural leaders and communities. 

High-quality data for rural areas can sometimes be difficult to find, but Statistics Canada has a range of resources to support economic and community development. Publishing this business data at the provincial and national levels helps rural communities to gauge their progress and plan ahead based on their strengths and challenges. Continuing to provide rural-specific data will be key to empowering and supporting rural communities in the years to come.

To access the recording and presentation slides from ROI’s “Outlook for Rural Businesses and Impacts from COVID-19” webinar, click here.