September 28, 2020
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Winter Park Economists Present Recovery Plan to Commission

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The Balmoral Group, an economic and civil engineering consulting firm in Winter Park, presented the findings of an economic study to the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce on August 12. The study, underwritten by the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation through the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce’s 501(c)(3) initiative, THRIVE Winter Park, detailed the impacts of COVID-19 on the community, and presented mitigation strategies for a return to normalcy

The economists surveyed 100 business owners and operators in mid-May, and projected conservative economic impacts of almost $500 million in GDP losses modeled across the top four business sectors (restaurant/retail, construction/professional services, health/education and finance/information). In addition, the peer-reviewed analysis estimated 5,429 annualized job losses (about 15 percent of total employment), resulting in $270 million in personal income lost, as well as significant impact to sales tax and usage fees.

Presented to the Commission by the Balmoral Group President Valerie Seidel, the analysis showed that the city has lost $799.1 million in direct and indirect output, including:

  • $326 million in Financial Activities & Information
  • $209 million in Education and Health Services
  • $191 million in Retail, Food Services, Accommodation and Entertainment
  • $73 million in Professional/Business Services and Construction

While the projections for the Winter Park community were dire, the study used the data to create “measurable, actionable mitigation strategies,” according to Winter Park Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Betsy Gardner Eckbert.

The study concluded that Federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans saved more than 3,000 jobs and helped local businesses avoid $400 million in losses.

In focusing on mitigation scenarios, the analysis showed that between emergency utility assistance, electric fuel rate reduction, small business utility assistance, the microloan program, and energy efficiency measures, more than $1.8 million has already been invested in relief for the Winter Park business community.

The presentation recommended a low-cost mask-wearing marketing campaign to increase business revenue in the affected sectors, hopefully giving consumers more confidence to go out and spend money at local businesses. “Right now [mask wearing] is probably the most valuable thing that can be considered to help our businesses, because I know there is a signification portion of the population that just won’t go to local businesses that aren’t adhering to mask-wearing policies,” said City Commissioner Todd Weaver in response to the strategy.

Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio agreed, adding “I think a mask requirement is even more critical now if restaurants want to continue to thrive long term.”

In addition to the mask-wearing campaign, the analysis recommended open-container outdoor areas to increase spaces where consumers can eat and drink while social distancing, as well as discount packages that can be sold, with proceeds going to support local business relief.

The analysis also laid out various potential mitigation scenarios for professional/business services, construction, financial activities and information, health and education services and other industries.

Sources of uncertainty were also covered in the presentation. The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is an evolving economic shock was mentioned, as well as the possibility of more shutdowns in Winter Park depending on how the pandemic evolves in the future. The analysis recognized that not all sectors were modeled, and that the economy could recover more quickly than expected.

The goal of the presentation to the City Commission was to request that the city move forward with the creation of a citizen-led, economic recovery task force, similar to what has been created in Orange County. The task force will be charged with creating a single, community-wide mitigation strategy for further economic impact.

According to Gardner Eckbert, the goal is for the task force to be assembled the week of August 17. It will represent the top industry sectors in Winter Park, as well as nonprofits and property owners. “[We will have a liaison] from the economic advisory board… and then a liaison from city management. And the purpose of that is to help us vet and rank options as quickly as possible,” she said. The task force will also include delegates from the Park Avenue merchants, the Economic Advisory board, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, City management, and the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park.

Gardner Eckbert said that the Chamber is receiving a lot of suggestions from community members, including creating new open container areas, removing barriers to entry for business licensing, and closing roads and alleys to expand dining capabilities. “We’re trying to create an awareness of the fact that though the crisis is going to go on longer than we thought, we [are] creating more long-term strategies,” said Gardner Eckbert. “We now know that nothing is going back to normal. We have to create a new normal.”

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