Some sectors of Riverside County's economy are contending with ongoing hardships and may not return to prosperity in the months ahead because of the lingering impacts of the yearlong coronavirus lockdowns, officials told the Board of Supervisors today.
"We have some industries that are really continuing to struggle," said Lou Monville, head of the county's Economic Recovery Task Force. "Travel and tourism -- that's the elephant in the room. It's a challenge for us. Restaurants and hotels were hit hard because of what was created.''
Monville, who is senior vice president of the Raincross Corporate Group in Riverside and serves on the task force as a volunteer, joined county Office of Economic Development Director Susan Holland in outlining the effects of the lockdowns, which have been relaxed since the first half of March.
"How do we help small businesses that are still suffering? The mom and pop businesses are the core of our economy, and they're struggling to emerge from this," Monville said.
He said youth sports venues and related businesses have also encountered significant setbacks, with many competition events being pulled out of Riverside County and moved into neighboring states, mostly Arizona.
"The Indio Polo Grounds is a great venue (that's lost money), along with SilverLakes Sports Park in Norco, and venues in Moreno Valley and Perris," Monville said.
"How do we keep business there? Families spend a lot on youth sports, and they're using hotels and going out to eat."
Monville and Holland displayed a "Strategic Economic Recovery Framework'' that provided a general list of possible options for helping businesses rebound.
One of the components was encouraging private sector investment, using all available resources. The county's Small Business Development Centers programs were mentioned, as well as countywide Workforce Development Centers for training and retraining displaced workers. The framework also recommended potentially re-examining county zoning regulations to identify opportunities for retailers.
Monville acknowledged that some entities are not able to return to full-scale operation because they cannot attract workers who have opted to remain home due to generous unemployment benefits.
"How do we get people back into those jobs that don't pay very well to begin with?'' Supervisor Jeff Hewitt asked.
Monville replied that part of the problem is the lack of incentives to return to the workforce.
The transportation sector of the regional economy, primarily goods movement and warehousing, continues to thrive and was only minimally impacted by the lockdowns, Hewitt noted.
He said he hoped the South Coast Air Quality Management District Board's recent approval of a rule mandating clean technology standards for the transportation industry associated with mega warehouses doesn't undermine the sector.
The task force's presentation did not address that, nor did it look at the potential benefits stemming from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which is expected to net the county roughly $480 million in relief that can be doled out to various government-authorized recovery programs.
The money is slated to become available this month and must be spent by the end of 2024. The county still has unspecified sums available from its nearly $500 million allotment of Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act of 2020 funding.