An overwhelming majority of small U.S. companies are being battered by fallout from the omicron surge as ongoing pandemic conditions magnify long-running COVID-19 driven labor shortages and supply chain snarls.

That, according to a report released Monday by the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Voices group. The national survey found 97% of small business owners say difficulty in hiring is impacting their bottom line, that 84% report rising inflation is a major concern, and widespread price increases are having negative impacts on the financial health of 76% of respondents. More than one-third of respondents, 37%, said their business had been forced to temporarily close or scale back operations due to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

Jessica Johnson-Cope, chairwoman of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices National Leadership Council and president of Johnson Security Bureau in the Bronx, New York, said the continuing impacts of the COVID-19 public health crisis are putting many U.S. small businesses in financial peril.

“Approaching the second anniversary of the onset of the pandemic, it is abundantly clear that small business owners across the country are facing more challenges than ever and simply cannot catch a break,” Johnson-Cope said in a statement. “The relentless pressures to pivot brought by this never-ending pandemic, coupled with the difficult labor market, inflation and supply chain constraints are all pushing small businesses to the brink.”

The Goldman Sachs survey was conducted Jan. 10-13 and included almost 1,500 small business owners from 48 states.

Those business owners cited labor shortages as the most significant challenge they’re facing with 87% of those currently hiring finding it difficult to recruit qualified candidates for open positions.

Louks Greek Baby Donuts owner George Zoumberakis puts sauces and toppings on louks in Cottonwood Heights on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. Louks is looking for additional workers. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

And that is the current No. 1 challenge for George Zoumberakis, owner of Louks Greek Baby Donuts in Cottonwood Heights.

Zoumberakis, who ran a food service business in L.A. for 15 years before opening up his Utah donut shop two months ago, said he’s never seen a tougher time for filling open staff positions.

“I’m competing for new employees with a lot of different companies that are looking right now and it’s my biggest challenge,” Zoumberakis said. “Demand is definitely exceeding supply.”

Zoumberakis said he’s using both online job posting sites as well as in-store advertising to attract applicants and has raised hourly pay rates for the entry-level jobs but is still having to fill open shifts himself to cover the shop’s operations.

“Being a business owner you try your best and you have to also be the person of last resort,” Zoumberakis said. “I have definitely had to pick up the slack on staffing challenges.”

And, labor shortage issues for Zoumberakis and other Utah business owners are showing no signs of easing as the state’s Department of Workforce Services on Friday reported Utah hit a historically low unemployment rate of 1.9% in December.

Workforce Services Chief Economist Mark Knold said the Utah labor market is now facing unprecedented circumstances when it comes to meeting the employment needs of the state’s businesses.

“As Utah’s economy progressed through 2021, the most striking theme was dwindling labor availability,” Knold said in a statement accompanying release of the new unemployment data. “Each month the unemployment rate moved lower and lower, finally sinking last month into historic territory.

“The state’s unemployment rate is now below 2% for the first time ever. This is uncharted territory in terms of such a low unemployment rate and gauging how much lower it can conceivably go.”

On top of unmet critical labor needs, the Goldman report also detailed supply chain tie-ups and slowdowns which started early on in the pandemic are continuing to exert pressure on small businesses. Sixty-eight percent of respondents reported concerns with ongoing supply chain constraints and 69% say the issue has negatively impacted their business revenue.

In a response the Goldman report authors characterized as “troubling,” 66% of small business owners say they’re encountering problems with suppliers who are favoring large businesses over small companies due to the volume of orders. And, small business operators are pointedly pessimistic about relief coming any time soon as only 13% expect supply chain issues to subside in the next six months.

Vessel Kitchen, in the 9th and 9th area of Salt Lake City, advertises that the restaurant is hiring staff starting at $15 per hour on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

While more than a third, 36%, of survey respondents said 2021 was more difficult than 2020, a majority believe their overall operating conditions will improve in the months ahead, with 73% saying they are optimistic about the financial trajectory of their business in 2022.

And, an overwhelming number of small business owners, 82%, said they’d like to see the federal government provide additional emergency financial assistance for small businesses.

“This new data clearly shows that the economic headwinds created by the pandemic are stronger than ever — and keep hitting Main Street hardest,” said Joe Wall, national director of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Voices in a statement. “Congress needs to seriously consider additional policies and programs, like reauthorizing the COVID EIDL (economic injury disaster loan) program, to aid in the recovery of small businesses.”