We are at least two months from putting real numbers behind the economic impact of COVID-19 on Christian County’s economy.

What we do know is that people aren’t spending money today like they were at the beginning of 2020. Show Me Christian County, an economic development agency funded by partnerships between the governments of Christian County, Ozark and Nixa, conducted an analysis of consumer spending through the COVID-19 pandemic. Andrea Sitzes, president of Show Me Christian County, shared that consumer spending in Christian County dropped 21.7 percent from Jan. 20 to April 30. Consumer spending is the private consumption of goods and services, and a key figure used to measure demand in macroeconomics.

Localized data usually runs a month or two behind state and regional data, so Sitzes cautioned that hard data for COVID-19’s economic impact on Christian County won’t be available until later this summer.

“We will be into June or July before we see how consumer spending has impacted our local municipalities,” Sitzes said.

Preliminary data, however, shows that Christian County experienced a larger drop in consumer spending than the state average, but is also experiencing a rebound.

“We are now on an upward trend as the actual county in total consumer spending,” Sitzes said during a webinar that Show Me Christian County put on on May 14. “By all other metrics, we had a very strong economy going into COVID, and hopefully, our businesses will all bounce back and be really strong.”

Show Me Christian County gathered data from Christian County through an online survey of business owners and managers.

The survey shows that 84.4 percent of businesses in Christian County experienced losses due to COVID-19. Sitzes said that much of the data comes from one particular business sector, so Show Me Christian County is working with chamber of commerce organizations across Christian County to encourage businesses from other sectors to participate and provide some more balance to the survey results.

However, only 7.8 percent of business owners and managers who responded to the survey were concerned that their Christian County business would close permanently as a result of the COVID-19 economic crisis.

“We have a gap, so if they are not going to close, we have to look at how do we actively solve some of these capital concerns so that we can keep cash flowing in our business community,” Sitzes said.

About 30 percent of Christian County business owners and managers who responded to the survey were at least slightly concerned that a closure could come about as a result of COVID-19’s economic effects.

Case counts tied to commerce

Sitzes said that the total number of COVID-19 cases in a county or state appears to have a correlation with how dollars move through a community. A higher volume of COVID-19 cases announced to the general public leads consumers to hold tight to their money.

“A lower number of cases shows that there is a stronger confidence in the economy,” Sitzes said.

Since Christian County had its first documented case of COVID-19 on March 18, there have been 22 documented cases of the novel coronavirus among Christian County residents. At the time Sitzes gave her economic presentation on May 14, all but two of those patients had entered the recovery stage of the disease cycle, according to the Christian County Health Department.

Total case numbers are easier to obtain than recovery numbers, so Sitzes believes the total case count for a county, or even a state, has a greater impact on consumer confidence.

“This is going to be something that I believe heavily impacts our economies as we recover,” Sitzes said. “We’re going to look at total number of cases and how that impacts consumer spending numbers.”

Because about 77 percent of Christian County residents commute to other counties for work, it’s important to note COVID-19 case counts in neighboring places like Greene, Webster and Taney counties. Greene County has experienced 94 confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses since March 12, and has logged eight deaths.

Consumer spending in Greene County is down 25.8 percent overall since mid-January 2020. 

Missouri trends

Missouri is one of five states identified for experiencing extreme sales tax revenue drops as businesses deemed “non-essential” by federal guidelines closed.

As of April 24, 2020, total consumer spending in Missouri decreased by a total of 16.9 percent from January 2020.

Show Me Christian County also compared Missouri trends with consumption trends in other states. Sitzes compared Missouri to Tennessee and Indiana, in particular, because of their comparable populations, stay-at-home orders and median household incomes.

She also compared Missouri with Oklahoma and Georgia, which relaxed stay-at-home orders in late April, before Missouri allowed stay-at-home orders to expire on May 4. Like Missouri, Oklahoma and Georgia are both dependent on sales taxes to fund government programs and services.

Consumer spending started on a sharp downward nosedive around March 15, about the time that public schools began to close in response to declarations of a pandemic. The spending level bottomed out on April 1. Missouri came under a statewide stay-at-home order from Gov. Mike Parson on April 6. Spending levels have since rebounded, but are still about 25 percent below what they were in January 2020.

Trends by industry

Opportunity Insights is a database that economic developers are using to crunch statistics tied to COVID-19 economic responses. Show Me Christian County used it to examine which sectors of industry are the hardest hit by COVID-19, and which stand to experience the fastest economic rebounds.

Retail and apparel sales are rebounding in Missouri. However, the entertainment and recreation and hospitality industries suffered the greatest losses and continue to experience earnings limitations based on occupancy restrictions and social distancing guidelines from state and federal health agencies.

Restaurant and hotel revenue in Missouri as a whole is down 55.2 percent for 2020.

Sitzes notes that some restaurants in Ozark and Nixa have altered their services to allow for new services like family-style bulk meal orders, and some of those changes will remain in place for those businesses beyond the COVID-19 emergency.

“There are some positive things, at least from an active learning perspective, that have come out of those sectors,” Sitzes said.

Missouri’s entertainment and recreation industry has experienced a 73-percent drop in consumer spending since March. It’s being felt in Taney County, home of Branson tourism and seasonal and year-round employment for many Christian County residents.

The industry data showed a peak in grocery shopping on March 18, a 72-percent increase above average as people prepared to shelter in place in their homes. Grocery spending remains 20 percent higher today than it was in January.

Sitzes examined the health care industry, which is one of the top three overall employers for Christian County’s population.

“Health care is another sector that is very important to Christian County. Being so close to Greene County and the health care that’s here in our region, this is a vital indicator, because the majority of our residents are employed in this sector,” Sitzes said.

Health care work went through a 47-percent decline across Missouri. In Springfield, major providers Mercy and CoxHealth temporarily closed some clinics and postponed appointments and procedures deemed “elective” for patients who were not deemed by their providers to be in immediate danger. Health care providers are now beginning to relax those restrictions and are conducting routine and elective appointments and procedures again.

Across Missouri, the month of April saw an increase in job postings for positions that required some education or no education, not necessarily for college degree holders.

“Our service businesses and service sectors were really ramping up,” Sitzes said.

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