The Centralina team wanted to get a better understanding of the impacts of COVID-19 across our region and to do this, we engaged our Board of Delegates and our regional managers group at two separate meetings. Through interactive discussions, polling and presentations, we heard from over thirty elected officials and executives about their top concerns related to the pandemic. Our team listened for opportunities to adjust our services and programming to better support COVID-19 response, recovery and relief. The following is a recap of the key impacts and insights from our discussions.
By the Numbers – COVID-19 Fiscal & Economic Impacts:
- Local Government Revenue: Majority of our region’s local governments reported a decrease in revenues during the fiscal year, especially sales, utility and occupancy tax. Simultaneously, they also experienced significant increases in COVID-19 related expenditures for pandemic response.
- Consumer Spending: Comparing January to October, overall consumer spending is down across counties in our region (ranging from -1% in Stanly County to -11% in Lincoln County). The exception is Iredell County, which saw an increase in spending since September and is up by +29% overall. The Charlotte metro average is an -8% decrease, which is slightly less compared to the state at -8.6%.
- Employment: The overall employment rate in the metro area decreased by -5.9% from January to October with low wage jobs seeing the most significant decrease of -12.5%. Our region’s numbers are slightly better than the -6.8% decrease statewide, fueled by a -19% drop in employment in the leisure and hospitality sector. The regional unemployment rate as of September was 7%, which was on par with the state rate and slightly better that then 7.7% national average.
- Small Business Impacts: Small business revenue is down -18.2% in the Charlotte metro area with small businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector down -46.4% from January to October.
Insights from Elected Officials and Executives
- To account for decreased revenues and increase expenditures, many local governments reportedly adjusted their budgets by delaying capital projects, freezing non-essential spending and/or furloughing or laying-off staff. Other local governments in the Centralina region reported that they made few adjustments to their FY20-21 budgets due to a more conservative budgeting approach.
- Among our regional managers and elected officials serving on the Centralina Board, the top impacts of COVID-19 on local government operations included flexibility in adjusting services and enabling remote work.
- At the community level, our regional leaders are concerned about economic insecurity, small business closures, impact of social isolation and mental health (especially on older adults) and challenges of remote schooling. Many shared concerns regarding the varying opinions on and compliance with health and safety restrictions and potential for a decrease in the level of trust in government.
- On the positive side, our leaders saw an increase in community use of public parks, trails and open spaces, as well as an increase in walking and biking. This may lead to a longer-term appreciation and financial support of parks, open spaces, greenways, recreation and human-powered transportation options.
- Similarly, leaders were optimistic about the future, citing local government as a vehicle for bringing people together in the recovery process, an increase in volunteerism and a sense of community. In addition, 70% of delegates polled were optimistic about their community’s economic recovery from COVID-19.
- Looking ahead six months, the issues most on the minds of elected officials include facing the uncertainty of COVID-19 and adjusting to the “new normal.” Most reported that their communities took a conservative approach to FY21 budgeting and therefore mid-year adjustments were not as high of a concern.
How Centralina Can Help
The feedback on how Centralina can continue to serve its members included supporting regional economic development, diversification of industry, as well as disseminating best recovery practices for downtowns. With regard to workforce, there was an interest in continued retraining or upskilling to help workers align to the “new normal” and the needs of businesses from COVID-19 recovery. Delegates and managers also expressed a need for a greater focus on smaller communities that may have been harder hit financially especially with grants, professional development and benchmarking. Our team will take these suggestions into consideration as we look at our programming for the second half of the fiscal year and beyond. In the meantime, Centralina members have access to a range of resources on our online Member Portal, including our COVID-19 resource page, professional development training videos and grant information.