The events of the last 12 months have combined to challenge all businesses to survive and try to maintain their profitability.
As a background piece of research for the Belfast Telegraph, a large spread-sheet has been compiled with quantitative evidence on how the performance of locally owned businesses is being affected.
The trading performance of some 400 Northern Ireland registered companies has been monitored.
A table (below right) giving summary details of the most recent annual returns of 10 of the largest locally-owned businesses shows that there are still some strong performances.
Although it is too early to assess how their performance will evolve during 2020-21, the 10 most profitable locally owned, some with significant family links, posted good results in 2019.
Of the 10 local businesses with the best most recently registered pre-tax profits, eight reported improved profits.
Eight of the 10 (not the same eight) showed increased turnover.
Against the background of a national recession, these local firms have, so far, been resilient.
Brexit and Covid-19 have been unwelcome and unexpected factors making business life difficult. Now, in early 2021, there are strong features consistent with a recession.
For many firms, turnover has fallen, profits have been hit and thousands of local employees have been surviving on the funds made available to furlough their contracts.
The main forecasts for the NI economy are, at best, for a partial recovery in 2021, provided that the Covid-19 crisis eases.
Although it is too soon to predict the path of economic recovery through 2021, there is already a pattern of disruption or contraction that highlights several key sectors of the economy.
Significantly, the locally owned businesses with highest pre-tax profits are less concentrated on high street retailing or tourism although two of the 10, John Henderson and SHS, are critical to the food retailing networks.
Northern Ireland has experienced major losses of employment in high street retailing mainly through the branch network of what were large retailing organisations, such as Debenhams.
Comparisons are sometimes inappropriate but the sectors most affected by the combined forces of recession must include hotels, restaurants and accommodation alongside a major collapse for the providers of holiday travel. Just as the strongest businesses have maintained their performance, the list of (usually smaller) firms which most recently have been trading at a loss confirms that the most recent trading year has seen a number of formerly profitable businesses now trading temporarily with (they will hope) losses.
The casualties include several construction businesses, some hotels and a very mixed group of diverse specialisms.
Of course, trading at a loss can be the temporary short run impact of events affecting a business without assuming that it cannot recover.
Several of the loss makers are candidates for a reversal of temporary losses and will be capable of remaining as successful profitable organisations.
Despite fears that 2020 would produce a serious number of business closures, the record of Northern Ireland owned businesses has, to date, shown remarkably few complete closures.
Painful difficulties are, however, being tackled, often with little publicity.