EDC preps for economic impact of COVID-19

  • The Macon County EDC is keeping a watchful eye on the local economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
    The Macon County EDC is keeping a watchful eye on the local economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Following reports of empty store shelves for items like hand sanitizer, toilet paper and antibacterial soap, the attention of the Macon County Economic Development Commission turned to a popular topic on Thursday night – Coronavirus.

“From an economic standpoint, I think the best advice we can give people is to take precautions, but don’t panic,” EDC Director Tommy Jenkins said. “People should still shop locally and visit the businesses that they enjoy.”

Jenkins added that he understands the public’s concern about the coronavirus outbreak nationwide, but advised against taking drastic measures.

“There have been a lot of events cancelled and other disruptions, but people still need to live their normal life,” Jenkins said. “Our local economy features a number of small businesses, and without customers they will take a hit.”

Highlands business owner Jerry Moore indicated that the effect of the coronavirus is already being felt in other parts of the country.

“My brother owns a small business in south Florida and he has really seen a decline in the last week,” Moore said. “Two weeks ago everything was normal, last week there was a little drop off, and this week they are down probably close to 75 percent. People are just staying home.”

Coronavirus, also called COVID-19, was first reported in China in early January. Since that time it has spread to numerous countries, including the United States. As of Tuesday there have been 7,038 cases nationwide and 36 deaths. In North Carolina there have been eight confirmed cases but no deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Recommended precautions include increased hand washing, avoiding physical contact with others, avoiding large-scale gatherings, trying not to touch the face and staying home if showing symptoms of illness.

The spread of the virus has led to cancellations of many large-scale public gatherings including sporting events and concerts. It has also led to disruptions for business that rely on products from countries hard hit by Covid-19.

“I don’t think we are going to understand the full scale of this, in terms of economic impact, for probably a year or more,” Cory McCall, co-owner of Outdoor 76 in Franklin, said. “We have suppliers in other countries that have been put way behind due to coronavirus and we don’t know how long it’s going to take them to catch up. Right now, we are fine because everything in our store now was ordered months ago, but going forward there is a lot of uncertainty.”

Jenkins informed the board that he is actively seeking information about programs aimed at helping small businesses make it through potentially difficult times related to coronavirus.

“I have heard some rumblings about some federal grant possibilities and a potential federal loan program, but nothing has been made official yet,” Jenkins said. “We are connected to the state economic development office and also to our regional partners like Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College, so if and when those programs get up and running we should know about them very quickly.”

Jenkins added that Macon County BizWeek is scheduled for April 20-23 and the plan for now is to host the annual banquet in the same fashion as years past.

“We are planning for BizWeek and so far we have three events scheduled, including the banquet,” Jenkins said. “With that said, we aren’t getting to deep in the weeds with the planning that we can’t pull the plug if need be to protect public health.”

BizWeek will feature the 2020 Up and Coming Business Award, given annually to a business headquartered in Macon County that has been open for 3-10 years and shows innovation, growth potential and service to the community.

Nominations for the Up and Coming Business Award are due April 9 and can be submitted online at www.maconedc.com/up-and-coming-award.