We're getting a clearer picture of the damage done to the Coachella Valley's economy, one year after the beginning of multiple shutdowns.
Tonight Karen Devine goes indepth in her I-Team report "One Year in Lockdown" to show you how billions of dollars have been lost in tourism revenue, a shrinking workforce and the uncertainty of what's next.
“It’s been chaotic,” says Joshua Bonner, CEO of the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The coronavirus restrictions and the multiple shutdowns in the past year led to an enormous financial hit for local businesses.
“I think at this point it’s safe to say that we were probably woefully prepared for a viral epidemic like this, not just at our local level, but globally,” says Bonner.
In the fall of 2020 the I-Team discovered at least forty businesses that had closed in an eight month period. Including, a variety of restaurants, retailers and hotels stretching across nearly every city. Bonner says decision making and direction in regard to the shutdowns came from the state, tying the hands of Riverside County and local city leaders.
“They were very sort of aggressive attacks, especially towards shutting down business, especially towards shutting down small business. I think a lot of us disagreed with it," says Bonner.
Like the rest of the county, valley residents have seen and felt the negative impacts of the pandemic restrictions like the number of jobs lost.
In 2020 the average unemployment number rose to 11.8% compared to 2019 where it stood at 4.9%. as of Friday, March 19, there’s been some movement in the right direction, but it's still exceptionally high, with unemployment at 10%. According to the data, today there are 9,000 less jobs than in 2019.
The Chief Economist for Development Management Group, Inc. of Palm Desert says, “The labor force today in the Coachella Valley is about 1500 people less than it was a year ago. So, people have just stopped looking for work because they realize the opportunities are minimal at best.”
Bracken says, one in four jobs in the Coachella Valley are tourism related. Tourism brings some seven billion dollars in annual economic impact to the region.
Devine asked Bracken, “When we’re talking about the big events like Coachella, Stagecoach and the BNP how much money was lost to the Coachella Valley?”
Bracken responded, “Yeah, the short answer is billions of dollars. Just the BNP Paribas Open, Coachella and Stagecoach bring in just under a billion dollars to the Coachella Valley a year. So 1/7 of the Coachella Valley’s tourism base is within those four weekends.”
Due to cancelled events, hotel occupancy was impacted across the valley. It went from 66% in 2019 to less than 42% in 2020.
As restrictions have loosened up and more people get their vaccinations, we’ve seen an influx of people frequenting restaurants and shops again across the valley. But, is the worst of it over?
“Listen, at some point, those eviction moratoriums are going to lift. At some point, some of these safety nets that we’ve put in place will begin to soften and maybe go away all together and I think that’s when we’ll really start to see how much damage was done at the community level,” says Bonner.
So, who stands out as winners during this past year of COVID-19 restrictions? Both agree that for most people learning to work remotely can have positive longterm effect on the Coachella Valley as an influx of people continue to move here and invest in our local economy.