Brice Wallace 

After building up Central Park Pet Retreat over the past eight years, Jackie Hansen didn’t want to close its doors, despite a pandemic.

And she didn’t.

The Salt Lake City pet day care and boarding business now is getting back to normal, which wasn’t the case a year ago.

“The pandemic is tough,” she said last week during National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day. “I think our lowest point was we had two employees and two pets, but we stayed open.”

That was despite her husband suggesting the shop shut down, but Hansen said “there was no way we were going to do that” after demonstrating the company’s strength in the years before the pandemic.

“I see a very positive growth in boarding day care and also in dog training. … We see a real positive outlook,” she said.

She’s not alone in her optimism. Despite the harsh impacts of the pandemic on the economy, Utah small businesses are expressing positive sentiment about the economic recovery.

“They’re ready and able to reopen as the economy reopens,” Zions Bank economist Robert Spendlove said during a news conference at the pet retreat. “Freshly vaccinated people will soon be able to reenter our workforce, be able to reenter our society and once again restart what we were doing before, whether it’s going to the dry cleaner, going to the movies or even going on a cruise.”

Several numbers back up that projection. Three in five Utah small businesses have fully recovered or expect to be fully recovered by September, and 40 percent have already returned to pre-pandemic levels. The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest Small Business Pulse Survey indicates that seven in 10 small businesses have fully recovered or expected to do so in next few months, with nearly half operating at pre-pandemic levels and another one-fourth expecting a return to normal within six months.

Mom-and-pop business account for “the vast majority of businesses in Utah,” Spendlove said. Ninety-nine percent of Utah’s businesses are small businesses.

“And they really are the lifeblood of the economy. They create jobs, they give our neighborhoods their unique flavors and they bring our communities together. Over the past year, many of these businesses have struggled and many of us have realized just how important these businesses are to us. We’ve missed being at restaurants, we’ve missed going to the movie theater and going to the gym. Sadly, we’ve even seen many of these businesses shut down during COVID and during the pandemic.”

Despite the pandemic’s impacts, many of Utah’s small businesses have shown “incredible resilience,” he said. “They’ve really reinvented themselves and reimagined ways that they can safely serve their customers,” he said, adding that many businesses have aided their communities by getting meals to struggling people and donating supplies to food banks.

Meanwhile, Utah has continued to have one of the nation’s strongest economies. It’s unemployment rate is a mere 3 percent, second-lowest in the nation behind only South Dakota, while the national rate is 6.1 percent.

“When we look at the overall employment sector in our country, we also see that the Utah job market has now fully recovered from the effects of the pandemic, versus the U.S., which is still down 6 percent,” Spendlove said.

Sectors with the strongest employment growth in Utah are construction, trade, and finance and professional services. Construction has benefited from low interest rates; high in-migration of people from outside the state; and continuing major projects such as the reconstruction of Salt Lake City International Airport, the Utah Inland Port, the Utah State Prison relocation and many road and rail projects.

“While many businesses continue to struggle,” Spendlove said, “I’m confident that as more vaccines roll out and more people get inoculated, that we will continue to see Utah’s economy continue to grow and thrive and return to the strength that we’ve seen over the years of our state.”

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