New River Valley, VA – In September 2020, Onward New River Valley conducted a survey of technology companies in Virginia’s New River Valley. The goal of the Industry Competitiveness Survey was to better understand how local information technology companies were operating and adapting in the wake of COVID-19. The survey was intended to identify common challenges among local companies and expose best practices that would support the overall competitiveness and continued growth of the local tech sector.
Survey responses were collected during a two-week period in September 2020. The survey was sent to 28 information technology companies in Virginia’s New River Valley (NRV) with 71% responding. The survey results revealed several insights about the tech sector in the region; these insights are described below.
Overall, tech companies have remained mostly stable in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. When respondents were asked to evaluate the current operating status of their companies, only 12% reported that their business had shrunk since the pandemic began. The vast majority (88%) indicated that their business had stayed about the same (50%) or even grown (38%).
Most (58%) respondents reported stable or increasing revenue compared to pre-pandemic, but over half (55%) of respondents reported a decrease in their sales pipeline. Consequently, it’s no surprise that a majority (63%) of respondents ranked marketing as one of their current top three concerns with the decrease in sales pipeline that tech companies are reporting.
Several respondents reported that lead generation is a current challenge due to the pandemic. One person wrote, “I feel that there is some lack of quality in our sales pipeline now that we’ve shifted all of our client meetings remote,” while another stated, “finding new ways to engage prospective clients without tradeshows and travel is a top priority.” Marketing and selling in a remote environment are clear challenges that tech companies in the NRV are facing and will continue to face in the near future.
Employment through tech companies in the NRV has remained stable despite COVID-19. Most (63%) of respondents said their number of employees has remained the same since the beginning of the pandemic. Twelve percent of respondents did report a reduction in employee levels, but two-thirds (67%) of them anticipate rehiring eliminated positions within a year.
Over a quarter (25%) of respondents indicated they had increased employment during the pandemic, reporting either a slight (17%) or substantial (8%) increase. Furthermore, over one-third (38%) of respondents said that they currently have unfilled job openings. Respondents reported that the most common hard to fill positions are software engineers, account executives, and production schedulers. There is clearly a continuing need for talent recruitment and retention efforts across the tech sector in the NRV.
Remote Work Trends
The survey revealed that COVID-19 has caused local tech companies to shift most of their workforce to remote work. Prior to the pandemic, three-fourths (75%) of survey respondents reported that less than 20% of their workforce worked remotely. In contrast, two-thirds (67%) of respondents reported that more than 81% of their employees were remote in late September. Respondents did indicate a slight decrease in the percentage of employees working remotely from July to September, signaling some tech workers were returning to the office.
Several tech leaders indicated that having a higher portion of their employees work remotely may persist even after the pandemic is over. One respondent stated that their company would have a “50% decrease in physical space needs” due to the increase in remote work, while another said, “we definitely value having a physical location and will keep it, but this only continues to fuel our ability to have employees located anywhere.”
Almost half (46%) of respondents reported offering incentives for employees to work from home. Helping employees set up their home offices, whether through transferring existing equipment home or purchasing new equipment for employees, was one of the most frequently mentioned incentives. Other common incentives included providing stipends or reimbursements to run employees’ home offices and upgrading employees’ home internet service.
Tech leaders signaled an overall strong outlook for the coming year. Within the next twelve months, the vast majority (88%) of respondents reported that they had a steady or positive outlook for their company. Over three-fourths (79%) of respondents anticipated that the remaining duration of COVID-19 impacts on their business would resolve within one year from the survey date.
Leaders were also asked to forecast how many employees they anticipated having within six months to one year. Within six months, over half (54%) of respondents anticipated that their employment numbers would increase. Within the next year, three-fourths (75%) anticipated a modest (58%) or significant (17%) increase in employment. Only 4% of respondents expected to reduce employment within the next year.
Learn more about the survey and read a final report of the results here.
Virginia’s New River Valley: Virginia’s New River Valley is an eclectic mix of interconnected small towns that each offer their own unique vibe and appeal. The region provides an abundance of cultural and social offerings due to the presence of three world-class universities, while retaining the charm and benefits of small town living. The NRV is home to a diverse and innovative business community with companies that range from high-tech startups to foreign-based corporations to specialty agribusiness. These organizations benefit from the collaborative spirit of our region and a loyal, highly-skilled, and educated workforce. The scenic beauty of the region also fosters a deep connection to nature, which is deepened by access to outdoor recreation and the preservation of our natural environment. It’s clear why Virginia’s New River Valley is “A Natural Fit.”
Onward NRV: Onward NRV is a public/private, regional economic development organization whose mission is to attract and retain world class jobs, investment, and talent in Virginia’s New River Valley. It’s also a movement where leaders from business, government, and higher education work together to promote the economic vitality of the region.