Jun 25, 2020 6:01 PM

St. Joseph economy seems to be weathering the COVID-19 storm

Posted Jun 25, 2020 6:01 PM

By BRENT MARTIN

St. Joseph Post

St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce President Patt Lilly is optimistic the economy will recover with the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

Lilly has seen the recovery as local retail shops and restaurants welcome customers back.

“And some of that is going slowly,” Lilly tells host Barry Birr on the KFEQ Hotline. “Some came back right away. Others have taken a little more of a conservative or pragmatic approach to opening and are just now beginning to open.”

Lilly says St. Joseph has weathered the downturn better than most Missouri metro areas, because of its large manufacturing sector.

“About 25, almost 30%, of the people that work in St. Joseph are involved in some way or another in making something.”

The St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce says St. Joseph lost about 7% of its jobs during the COVID-19 restrictions, while most Missouri metropolitan areas lost at least 10% of their workforce. The city’s strong manufacturing base and its export business kept it from losing more jobs. Only Joplin did better in job retention during the restrictions.

Generous unemployment benefits might be holding some people back from returning to work even after the lifting of the restrictions.

Lilly says with the normal Missouri unemployment check enhanced by a $600 a week federal supplement there’s little incentive to rush back to work.

“A number of people either are making what they were at their job or more and so, as a consequence, it’s a little more difficult to get those folks back,” according to Lilly.

Federal aid approved by Congress has proven effective, according to Lilly, especially by helping small businesses retain their workers. Local help is being offered as well. Buchanan County is offering a $5,000 grant to small businesses struggling to survive. The city is offering loans from $5,000 to $10,000 which have the potential of being forgiven.

“Both good local programs,” Lilly says. “I think they come at a good time, kind of in this period between the current round of federal funding and potentially a future round later this summer.”

Lilly remains optimistic the economy will bounce back, but doesn’t see full economic recovery until consumers feel safe to shop again.

“Getting the consumer back out is important and creating an environment, be it the small retail shop or in general, that the consumer feels safe both physically and monetarily, is going to be important to continue this current recovery,” Lilly says.