Economic Contagion

Navigating the various stay-at-home orders and CDC guidelines can be confusing; however, trying to determine the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is even more of a challenge. We enlisted the help of Greg Wathen, president and CEO of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, to get a picture of the COVID-19 impact to our regional economy.

What are the industries and sectors impacted most in our region?
The businesses who have really been impacted in our market right now are restaurants. And think about our gaming in terms of Tropicana. That has been severely impacted. In Indiana in particular, we basically have four revenue streams. You have sales tax, you have a property tax, you have a state income tax, and you have a gaming tax. And the gaming tax has been severely impacted. It’s massive. When you think about Evansville alone, that’s probably $12 or $13 million a year.

How does Evansville fall within the national scope of COVID-19’s economic impact, especially when it comes to unemployment?
The state’s unemployment rate for April is 16.9 percent, which other than Michigan at 22.7 percent is the highest for the Great Lakes Region. We don’t have our region’s unemployment data as of yet, but we have updated unemployment claims filings increasing to 26,169 since March 14, and that is approximately 16.5 percent of our workforce.

Do you think we’ll be seeing the impacts of the virus and shutdown on the economy for some time?
Prior to COVID-19, prior to the beginning of March, our economy was humming along. In 2017, we had about 3.8 percent growth in GDP, and 2018 I think we had 4.2 or 4.3 percent growth of our GDP. We’ll get the new 2019 numbers in July. That will probably show significant GDP growth as well. But it’s going to be an anomaly in 2020, because we really don’t know what that growth is going to be probably until the end of this year.

How can individuals support the local economy?
The easiest thing, if people feel comfortable about it, is to — because we are truly a consumer society — go out and purchase a local service. Go to the hair salon, go to your local dentist or your local doctor, go to restaurants. If that change occurs and you start doing these simple kinds of things, then I think you’re going to see the economy start turning.

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