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COVID economic factors that may prove positive

Most of us, if not all, are happy to see the end of 2020. The challenges of this past year have been compared to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic in terms of its effect on public health globally, but also compared to World War II in terms of how we live and the economy that surrounds us. During the war a can of Spam replaced the T-bone steak and today “yoga by Zoom” is replacing the gym visit, and both less than prior expectations. During World War II, most people on the home front felt a distinct sense of hardship. Many feel the same right now.

Certainly, the economy will be a challenge in 2021. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (MNDEED) through February 2020, Minnesota was in the midst of the longest running economic expansion on record, still growing through the first quarter of the year. But instead of continuing to hit new record heights, constrained only by a slowing labor force growth rate, Minnesota’s economy instead suffered record job losses in the second quarter.

The state lost over 330,000 jobs from March to April, an 11.4% drop. Through October, the state is still down nearly 190,000 jobs compared to the same month in 2019 but had recovered over 250,000 jobs that were lost from March to April.

However, in comparison to the State, southwest Minnesota benefited from better results in construction, agriculture, and wholesale trade (particularly in farm supplies and products). Most notably, construction employment within southwest Minnesota seeing a nearly 25% increase in employment. Locally we have seen impacts in the gains from construction.

The local sales tax which is driven largely due to construction and wholesale goods from 2019 to 2020 has seen a 4.6% increase. This may mean that for 2021, southwest Minnesota and Marshall may recover quicker and stronger than the rest of the state.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a massive change in where many of us work. By the summer, over 40 percent of workers in the U.S. were working from home full-time. Will this continue into the future? Companies that publicly pulled back on telecommuting over the past decade include IBM, Aetna, Bank of America, Yahoo, AT&T and Best Buy. Remote employees often felt marginalized, which made them less loyal. Creativity and innovation seemed to suffer.

One CEO stating the “best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings.” Thus, the new demand for office space may mean more on-site meeting space to enable interactional versus transactional work. Further it is being said that working from home, in order to be successful, will need to be a hybrid approach, with scheduled time at home and in the office.  

In 2021, customers will order more delivery than ever before. Once customers are familiar with delivery in general, expect them to start ordering in new areas, too. A benefit direct to Marshall is that the Schwan’s company has seen the demand for its home delivery service of frozen foods rise in 2020 as more and more people elected to do their grocery shopping from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But there is also a prediction of Main Street revitalization. Consumers appreciate the uniqueness, personal connection and specialization of a boutique.

Customized products, personalized offerings and artisanal brands, is a win for local, small specialty businesses. Also customers are starting to realize that large e-commerce companies like Amazon don’t do everything well. As more small and medium-sized businesses pivot their business offerings to meet new consumer demands, there could be a customer shift toward local favorites. 

Another piece of good news is that locally we are not in this alone. The pandemic has affected many local economies across the globe. In spite of this, we are likely to see a boom once the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 is gone because many have been working from home, limiting both their outside contacts and their spending.

This boom we hope will resemble what followed World War II, consumers will have spent months postponing their larger purchases and when the time comes, that pent-up demand will be released, thereby improving a bleak economy into a positive one.

— Sharon Hanson is the city

administrator for the city

of Marshall

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