The Clearfield County businesses hit the hardest by the shutdown of the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic were those in the recreation and tourism industry, according to a local report.
Earlier this year, the North Central PA LaunchBox did a survey of businesses in its entire region that covers Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, Potter and McKean counties.
Brad Lashinsky, director of the LaunchBox, said in the local area, COVID-19 had the biggest impact on the recreation and tourism business.
In the last few months, many events have been cancelled including the annual March Madness sales, both the Penn State University Athletic Conference Baseball Championship and the United States Collegiate Athletic Association World Series scheduled for Shower’s Field in DuBois, Clearfield’s Bloom and Berry Bash, Houtzdale Days and now even the Clearfield County Fair.
The hospitality business and hotels were “dramatically impacted, he explained, although some improvement has been seen for them since the county went into the “green” phase.
A majority of Clearfield County businesses had to lay off employees, Lashinsky said, as he reviewed the results of the survey.
Four different companies laid off over 50 people, 46 laid off from 11 to 49 people and 37 laid off less than 11 employees.
Most of the 87 companies that completed the survey took advantage of the government programs designed to help them.
This includes the Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Administration that was administrated by area banks.
The PPP allowed owners to borrow money that would later turn from a loan into a grant if they kept their employees on the payroll. It also gave them help for paying their utilities and rent.
“CNB did loans totaling millions,” he said.
When a second amount of money was added to this program, some of the local banks “tapped out” because of the extra work needed to process the applications.
The revenue loss for most was between $10,000 to $25,000.
Manufacturing had a tough time initially because it was unclear which businesses were considered essential.
“At first, the lumber industry was non-essential, but in a few weeks, they (the state) said they were essential.”
This led to shortages in treated lumber, he explained, because many people who were staying home decided to do home improvement projects.
“Lowe’s, Home Depot and Lezzer Lumber all did well” during this time.
Other manufacturers “even if they could open, some could not get the supplies they needed” and they only brought back about 75 percent of their staff to comply with social distancing restrictions.
One type of business that is continuing to suffer is restaurants, which still can’t completely open with the restrictions on social distancing having them operating at only a 50 percent capacity.
Because of the increased cost with needing extra help to disinfect tables and other areas, some restaurants have decided to stay with offering take-out only, he said.
Lashinsky said he recently saw information indicating that one out of four businesses will close as the result of the pandemic.
Locally, he knows of three businesses that are closing and more are expected to follow.
Small salons and barber shops are particularly suffering because they were some of the last places to open and they are also not able to operate at 100 percent.
As the movie theaters are opening, they are being innovative with special showings of older films.
The Golden Ticket Theaters in DuBois is offering the theaters for rent for groups of 13 or more, he noted.
“Businesses are thinking outside the box to see how they can operate” under the restrictions.
Food trucks and street vendors that depend on carnivals and county fairs have also found a different way to do business, as they are setting up in parking lots, he stated.
One positive aspect of all of this is the lack of broadband Internet service is now getting more attention due to people working at home and children accessing school programs, he said.
“There is an appreciation of the need for the service,” he said. “This is now a high priority with additional state funding becoming available.”
Having access to high-speed Internet service has often been listed among the necessary utilities to attract new business and industry.
In the next few months, Lashinsky expects the tourism and recreational industries to continue to suffer because more events may be cancelled and many people are not planning on traveling this summer.
However, local people are more likely to stay close to home and take advantage of state parks and other attractions.
He commented that it is nice to see some activities are coming back with Little League play starting and community pools opening.
As to what the future holds for all of us, he stated that “we have a different environment to live in for the unforeseeable future.”