The issue: There’s some good news!
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What we think: City was exceptionally resilient in 2020.
What’s that? Do you hear it too? Why, it’s good news!
It all began when Mayor John Suthers — Zooming alongside UCCS Economic Forum Director Tatiana Bailey and Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center Director Aikta Marcoulier as panelists of the Business Journal’s Book of Lists reception Jan. 28 — told the audience that the city’s general fund, which relies heavily on sales tax revenue, was down only a half a percent through November 2020 when compared to all of 2019.
That was just before the the December numbers were released and Suthers cautioned last week that the month normally generates the largest windfall for city coffers, adding there could be a felt COVID-related impact.
But it could have been so much worse. For all of 2020, the city came up just .63 percent short of 2019 numbers.
Considering the year that was, that’s extraordinary.
The mayor’s words: “Amazingly enough, the city is doing quite well. We certainly didn’t look that way in March and April. In March, city revenues were down 14 percent. In April, they were down 23 percent. We were modelling for as much as a 30 percent decrease in city revenues — $110 to $120 million, but it’s a tremendous tribute to the resiliency of our citizens that things changed pretty dramatically. As of right now, without seeing December, we’re only a half a percent down in General Fund revenue. That is mind-boggling when you think about it.”
One of the biggest cushions last year was the city’s construction boom, which has carried into 2021. Though a bulk of that construction has been tied up in downtown housing, and once the construction is complete, we’ll need people to move in. That means ensuring there are plenty of high-paying jobs beyond the boom.
But almost every metric measured in December stacked up to the same time in 2019. Auto dealers did only slightly better in 2019. Same with clothing retailers. Restaurants took a hit and, while not insignificant, the numbers indicate many have been able to continue doing businesses, however modified.
In fact, the building materials industry far outpaced December 2019 numbers, as did miscellaneous retail. Even department and discount stores saw a bump in December versus 2019.
But momentum is like car keys — both are too easy to lose. The focus now must be on sustainable, quality jobs to ensure spending and development remain strong in El Paso County. And the city has long struggled with keeping wages on par with the rest of the nation. Paying competitive wages would be a great way to maintain momentum and hire transient talent looking for work.
There’s still much to be uncertain about — but if everyone remains vigilant, the darkest days could actually be behind us.
And, as the numbers from one of the country’s sunniest city’s show, there’s been light peeking through the clouds this whole time.