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Brower: Grand economy takes a beating in wake of virus

The numbers on initial unemployment claims from March in Grand County are in. They aren’t pretty.

As reported in The Denver Post, Grand County saw astronomical increases in weekly claims from the first to the last week of March. Most will remember that it was on Friday the 13th when it became clear that schools, ski areas and many businesses in the mountains of Colorado were going to be closing their doors. So the increase in these numbers is directly related to the self-imposed closings and shelter-in-place orders.

In the first week of March there were seven unemployment claims in Grand County, which was almost the same as last year’s number for the same week. The next week there were 10, still close to last year’s numbers. By the third week there were 81 unemployment claims. By the fourth week, 448 employees in Grand County were out of their jobs and were filing for assistance. That’s a total of 546 unemployment claims in one month in little ol’ Grand County.

Ouch. Other mountain counties have also been hit hard.

The sheer volume of the claims and the rapid pace at which they were filed can only give an inkling of what these numbers mean for the rest of the economy in Grand County. The definitive numbers on the impacts on retail sales in the county of the COVID-19 crisis won’t be in for a few weeks, but these numbers suggest strongly that the impacts will be dire.

As if these unemployment numbers aren’t scary enough, consider the fact that the many employees who are still working are probably working on reduced hours and maybe even for reduced pay. And then consider that all these employees out of work or on reduced hours will be wanting for health benefits right at a time when they might need them the most.

The businesses that employed these workers are also being devastated by the near shut down of our economy caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. Being forced to close for some may have been a dark blessing as staying open would have been a money-losing option regardless. And establishments that are open are struggling to bring in enough money to make it worthwhile.

Soon, I am sure, public sector entities in Grand County that have come to depend on sales tax revenues will be facing diminishing revenues. Towns like Granby, Kremmling and Fraser, with their larger grocery stores, will see cuts in sales tax revenue for sure. But towns that don’t have the large grocery stores, and which live very much on resort and vacation-oriented sales tax revenue, will see disturbing and larger (percentagewise) drops in revenue.

Even Grand County, which has a 1% sales tax in its revenue stream, will see impacts.

Also of concern will be what might happen to public entities that are solely dependent on property taxes and use fees to fund their operations. I fear that delinquencies may be far more prevalent than ever before.

I’ve been working with countless businesses on relief and assistance in these trying times. The bottom line is this. Local sources of aid and counsel are the fastest reacting and the most likely to succeed. With that in mind, go to http://www.workingrand.com/covid-resources/business-owners/ for many local resources. This was put together with the BERT (Business Emergency Resource Team), a consortium of Grand County Economic Development, local chambers of commerce and business advocates. This includes the Grand Foundation, which has a business emergency help resource it’s administering on the front page of its website.

Don’t forget the Mountain Family Center. Don’t forget the Grand County Rural Health Network.

As for the federal and state level programs for businesses and employees, the key word is patience. Web platforms are overwhelmed with the volume of claims and applications. Some people are getting through with the SBA business loans through their banks, and some aren’t. And rules and requirements are changing on the payroll assistance plans.

But apply if it’s appropriate, try to be patient and hope for the best.

We got through the Great Recession and I’m hoping we can also get through this, what I’m calling, “The Greater Recession.”

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.


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