Mile Post 2020: Economic Uncertainty
Pandemic ushers in end of decade-long boom
The economic impact of the novel coronavirus this past spring was swift and vicious, with the unemployment rate at one point spiking to 20.4% in Summit County and numerous businesses closing their doors, some permanently. Even when they were able to reopen, many businesses
had to do so under new safety precautions, in some cases limiting their capacity significantly or requiring major alterations to their operations.
Many months removed from that initial wave of upheaval, a clearer economic picture is beginning to take shape. Jeff Jones, Summit County’s economic development director, said the economy is still nowhere close to where it was pre-coronavirus, when Summit County was amid a decade-long stretch of prosperity after emerging from the Great Recession.
“The Summit County economy is probably operating at about 70-75% of where it was before the pandemic,” Jones said. “So, we are still a ways from getting back to normal. An economy operating that far below ‘normal’ still translates into economic hardship for a lot of folks.”
The travel, leisure and hospitality industries, Jones said, have been hit particularly hard. Restaurants are seating somewhere in the ballpark of
35% fewer customers than they did before the pandemic, while hotel occupancy was estimated to be down 23.4% for August. Airline deplanements at the Salt Lake International Airport, another key indicator for the resort-focused Summit County economy, were down 58.3% compared to 2019.
Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau, said the premature end to the 2019-20 ski season resulted in $153 million in lost spending, a massive impact on “what was shaping up to be a spectacular season.” Malone described the current state of the local economy simply as “fragile.”
“It will be a challenging winter for most of us dependent on large amounts of ski visitation,” he said. “We are mostly dependent on long- haul customers who fly here to ski. The New York area and Southern California have been our major sources of destination visitors. A lot will depend upon the number of people who want to travel by air.”
The bad news, Malone said, is that international visitation is expected to be down significantly, and those visitors are usually big spenders who stay longer.
Jones said one major consideration going forward is that Summit County’s economic recovery is not entirely in our hands.
“Our continued economic recovery depends on two factors,” he said. “How effectively we manage and contain the spread of the virus and the fiscal policy of the federal government. I would like to see additional support for small business and those still unemployed.”
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