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Coronavirus onslaught on North Central Idaho's economy continues

by Kathryn Tacke, Idaho Department of Labor Regional Economist

North Central Idaho residents filed a record number of unemployment insurance claims in the three weeks starting March 15 and ending April 4, as the table below shows.

In the past two weeks, roughly 10 times as many filed claims than were filed prior to the onslaught of the coronavirus economic crisis. For more information, see the Tableau created by two Idaho Department of Labor employees at: https://public.tableau.com/profile/idlabor#!/vizhome/IdahoInitialClaims/Dashboard

The two sectors hit the hardest by the coronavirus crisis are the retail and wholesale industries and leisure and hospitality industries. The 349 retail and wholesale operations in North Central Idaho, deemed nonessential, employed 3,741 people in 2019 and had a payroll of $10.9 million a month, In 2019, 376 leisure and hospitality businesses-including recreation facilities, restaurants, bars, and lodging-employed 4,973 people in 2019 and had a monthly payroll of $5.8 million. Most of them are shut down or only offering take-out or other limited services.

Coronavirus has stopped the flow of cruise boats travelling the Columbia and Snake rivers from Portland to Clarkston, WA. The season normally starts at the beginning of April. Passengers rose from 31,168 in 2017 to 78,166 in 2019, and the port expected to see further increases in 2020. The passengers spend lots of money on hotels, meals, jet boat excursions, local wineries, and the Nez Perce Tribe's casino.

Most of the dozen boat builders in the "jet boat capital of the world"-the Lewis-Clark Valley-and SJX Boats in Orofino saw a sharp drop in orders in late March. The fall of the stock market, which will likely reduce spending on high-end recreational items, and the economic downturn could greatly reduce demand this year, and lead to layoffs. The financial collapse in 2008 nearly halved their employment 12 years ago. Together, boat builders employed about 250 people in 2019, and SJX Boats and a couple of Clarkston operations planned to expand this year.

Hospitals are increasing their spending on personal protective equipment and other supplies as they prepare for the apex of the virus, while the virus has forced them to discontinue their most lucrative services-elective procedures and other outpatient services.

Before the coronavirus, the University of Idaho in Moscow and Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston already were struggling to overcome budget shortfalls. Now, the presidents of Idaho's higher education institutions are worried it may cause a decline in enrollments in the school year that begins in late August. An update to the Idaho State Board of Education on April 6 stated research shows students may decide to stay closer to home or not enroll for classes during the fall semester because there are uncertainties about what kind of restrictions, if any, will remain in place.

"We had finalized our budgets here at the University of Idaho for the next fiscal year and had taken $22 million out already, which would have effectively balanced our budget for the coming year, if not for COVID," President Scott Green said. Source: Lewiston Tribune

Nonprofits throughout the region are struggling to meet the rising need for their assistance, while their resources are shrinking. Food banks, trying to feed nearly twice as many people as they did before the pandemic, are competing for limited supplies and increasing prices for foodstuffs, toilet paper, and other necessities. The shutdown of nonessential businesses forced thrift stores to close, sharply cutting revenues for many nonprofits. That also reduces job opportunities and workforce training for people with disabilities and other clients of nonprofits. Furthermore, the fall in the stock market and the economic downturn will probably greatly reduce donations this year.

Air traffic plummeted in early March and continued to fall afterward. The director of the regional airport in Lewiston reported to the Idaho Business Review, "Lewiston is suffering the same COVID-19 effect as most every commercial airport in the US, which is a 95-99 percent drop in passengers. Delta still operated LWS - (Salt Lake City) daily but reduced the frequency to once per day. Their schedule can change with little notice, so it's not published on the website."

The pandemic's effects on interstate traffic and then stay-at-home orders curtailed travel on the region's roads in recent weeks. Average daily traffic on U.S. 95 fell 39 percent from 10,400 in the week of March 6 to 6,400 in the week of April 2. In Idaho County, average daily traffic fell from 1,700 to 700. Source: Idaho Business Review

Resources for businesses and the unemployed

The State of Idaho's coronavirus website provides information about COVID-19 medical conditions in Idaho and advice about protecting your family's health as well as resources for businesses, schools, and health care providers at: coronavirus.idaho.gov

People who have lost their jobs and employers can find information about unemployment insurance and apply for benefits at: www.labor.idaho.gov. The labor site also provides assistance to job seekers, resources for employers, and labor market information about Idaho's economy and employment.

The Idaho Small Business Development Center provides advice for businesses at: https://idahosbdc.org. Its COVID-19 Resources can be found` at: https://idahosbdc.org/covid-19-resources

The Small Business Owner's Guide to the CARES Act, the legislation that President Trump signed March 27, provides information about the wide variety of assistance the act provides businesses at: https://www.sbc.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/guide-to-the-cares-act

The Idaho Department of Commerce provides information for businesses and economic development organizations about COVID-19 resources at: https://commerce.idaho.gov/covid-19/

U.S. Small Business Administration provides information about loans available through the disaster assistance program at: https://www.sba.gov/page/coronavirus-covid-19-small-business-guidance-loan-resources

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