Originally printed in the August 4 edition of The American Press
The impact of coronavirus is devastating to many aspects of our lives. First and foremost is the impact of over 3,800 deaths in Louisiana and over 170 deaths in our five- parish region alone. The loss and sorrow to the families will always be with us. Thousands more have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Businesses have also been impacted and that affects the jobs and livelihood of all of us. Back in mid-March, when many non-essential businesses were ordered closed, the losses began. Prior to the pandemic, our nation’s economy was strong — particularly here in Southwest Louisiana where we led the nation in industrial projects. Coupled with the oil crisis, our economy crashed.
Federal loans and grants became available from the CARES Act by Congress and hundreds of our businesses were able to obtain funds through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which provided for about eight weeks of operating costs. This was designed to keep the employees of their shuttered businesses being paid until they could re-open. However, when and if the businesses did re-open, they did so at reduced capacity which was not enough revenue to survive or keep employees on the job. Federal stimulus checks of $1,200 were received by citizens which pumped over $130 million into our local economy. Congress is fighting to decide what future recovery programs will be enacted. Many workers also received $600 per week in unemployment assistance in addition to the regular unemployment claims. This resulted in workers at the lower pay scales making more money being unemployed, and was a disincentive to return to work.
The state’s unemployment fund has been drained and due to a long-enacted law, when this happens businesses are going to be hit by a large increase in their unemployment insurance payments.
We were fortunate that the industries in our region were deemed essential and continued to operate, some at a reduced capacity, but nevertheless they operated and the workers were paid.
According to data from Buxton Analytics, the Alliance has been able to track sales performance during the recent month.
Automobile sales appear to have rebounded well along with clothing stores and furniture stores even though they have not returned to the sales levels of last year. Grocery stores, general retail such as Walmart, and building supply stores all appear to be having good increases over last year.
Restaurants for the most part are rebounding but no more than 70-80 percent of last year. This varies by restaurant type with drive-thrus having good increases while dine-in only sales are way down. Bars are hit hard and have been ordered closed again. Casinos appear to be at about 70-80 percent of the revenue levels of last year. Again those figures vary by establishment.
We await further executive orders from Gov. John Bel Edwards. Based on the number of cases of coronavirus, it is not expected that further opening of businesses will be allowed until our cases are decreased and stabilized.
While it is the priority of the Alliance and Chamber SWLA to first be concerned about the health and safety of our residents, we also want our businesses to re-open and keep the employees on the job.
We have been asked by our local medical community, state, and federal health officials to each do our part by wearing a mask in public, maintaining social distancing, and washing our hands frequently. There are some folks who refuse to wear a mask and by doing so are prolonging the agony we are enduring in health and business impact.
Many retailers such as Walmart, Sam’s, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens and many others are requiring masks for customers. This has unfairly placed retailers in the enforcement process.
By each of us taking responsibility and following the rules, the enforcement burden is removed from employees at stores who are concerned for their own health.
If we take these necessary steps, businesses can re-open more fully and provide for the economic well-being of us all.