Osceola County economy suffers due to coronavirus pandemic

Buisnesses close and events canceled

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Local community leaders and business owners, alike, share concerns over the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on tourism and the local economy.

In 2018, Osceola County visitor spending generated around $119 million, with state and local tax revenue of more than $13 million.

With the current stay at home order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended till the end of April, community leaders worry about the economic impact.

Reed City Chamber of Commerce Director Chris Ems said visitors to the area are at a low, and restaurants and businesses that deal with customers daily have started to feel the impact.

“We have noticed limited traffic due to the stay at home order,” Ems said. “It limits people on the roads, eating at our local restaurants and walking down the trails.”

Ems said the chamber has had to postpone the annual chamber meeting and Business After Five event scheduled for April 22, because of the order.

“We are unsure of when this stay at home order will be over, which puts our event planning on hold for April, and possibly into May,” he said. “But we are looking forward to our Memorial Day parade in May, and our annual chamber golf outing in June.”

Garrett Murphy, manager at Reed City Brewing Company, said they are now offering take-out and delivery only, since the governor’s order to close all dine-in services.

The impact on their employees will be minimal, he said, because they typically have one staff member at the bar and serving at a time.

“The greatest impact on the business will be because it will keep visitors away,” Murphy said. “Our business is probably 60-percent local and 40-percent visitors in town, so that will impact us pretty harshly.”

“We will rely on locals to keep us going during this time,” he added.

Blown Away Salon owner Heather Hammer said coronavirus "definitely will" impact her business.

“Regardless of the fact that we have no revenue coming in, bills still need to be paid to keep the salon ready for when we reopen,” Hammer said. “Upon having to close the salon, I feel a great deal of sadness."

Opening her own salon had been a dream of Hammer’s for many years, and she was finally able to make it a reality just a few months ago.

“Fortunately, my employees are not independent contractors, so they are able to draw unemployment,” Hammer said.

“I think we will be able to weather the storm,” she added, “because people still need to get their hair done.

“I’m concerned as to what the drop in the economy will do to our business," she said. "If people don’t have extra money, they may not want the special services we provide.”

Hammer said she feels certain every hairdresser out there that is not working right now, can’t wait to get back behind the chair as soon as possible.

“Our community has done a great job of sticking together during this time and supporting our small businesses and restaurants as best as they can,” Ems said. “It has been incredible to witness how strong our community is.”

Evart Downtown Development Association (DDA) Director Bryan Tiedt said, there has been a noticeable economic impact already from Whitmer’s executive order to limit places of “public accommodation,” and most recently the stay at home order, with many businesses closing and employees in fear of losing their jobs.

Ventra Evart shut down their operations and sent employees home on March 23, stating it was "to comply with the stay at home order."

“Among the small businesses that have closed, there is much discussion regarding maintaining customers and employees, as well as paying rent without an income,” Tiedt said. “This is an issue everywhere and we are hoping for the best.”

“There will be some long-term impact, especially if businesses close and fail to reopen,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to limit this and provide support where we can.”

Tiedt said the DDA has not yet considered cancelling any events, and they are hopeful that the stay at home order requirement will end prior to the full tourist season.

Deb Garner, owner of Lamplighter Cafe in Evart, said at the time, when Whitmer ordered restaurants to go to take-out only that it would definitely lower sales and hurt her staff.

“We typically have five or six working at a time, but with take-out only we will only need one or two to do orders,” Garner said. "I just want to make sure I can use up the food supply that I already have."

Lamplighter Cafe has since closed completely.

Garner said she hopes the employees that are let go can take advantage of any government assistance available.

The Evart Area Chamber of Commerce posted on their Facebook page that they have cancelled the 2020 Egg Drop event due to the coronavirus.

Chamber president Eric Schmidt said the event typically brings out around 1,000 kids and their parents.

“It is a shame it had to be canceled," he said. “We bring in people from all over for this event, and they visit the restaurants, gas stations and other businesses. So that’s going to be a big hit for our local businesses.”

With the stay at home order recently extended to April 30, that will impact tourism in the area and businesses will continue to be hit, Schmidt said.

“That’s a punch in the gut,” he said. “We just hope people will continue to support local businesses, maybe eat out a little more than normal, to help them out.”

Schmidt said if, and when, the stay at home order is lifted, they would expect tourism to pick up.

“People will be ready to get out,” he said. “We have a lot of hunting, fishing and outdoor activities here, and once this is over and people can get out and about again, I think it is going to be phenomenal.”

Schmidt said the government assistance package that recently passed will help.

The $2.1-billion stimulus package passed by Congress last week will provide individuals with a one-time payment of $1,200 to $2,400 to help cushion the financial strain resulting from the pandemic.

For displaced workers, the package provides an additional $600 per week in additional to any state unemployment benefit, up to four months, and extends the eligibility period up to 26 weeks.

In addition, the stimulus package will provide small business loans up to $10 million at 4 percent interest to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. If used for payroll, rent, mortgage payments and/or utilities, the principal amount can be forgiven leaving the business owner liable for only the interest on the loan.

The Economic Policy Institute is projecting a possible loss of around 400,000 jobs in the hospitality and leisure industry in Michigan because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers who are let go from their jobs are encouraged to contact the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) at michigan.gov.