Monroe County Mayor Mitch Ingram recently discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on business, along with how those local shops are recovering from the lockdowns throughout the county.
The first topic he discussed was the unemployment numbers in the county.
“Thank goodness that we have seen our unemployment rate drop, especially from when COVID truly started,” said Ingram. “We were almost at 23% unemployment and now we expect to be in the 8% or even under and certainly we feel very confident that, hopefully, by Christmas season, as seasonal jobs start to open up, it will be even lower than that.”
He believes the rate is dropping slow but steady and that the county is keeping along with the state average with rate decreases.
Though the county has a rough idea of the numbers associated with the impact, Ingram noted it is difficult to get exact numbers at the moment due to the amount of businesses it encompasses.
“The important thing is that we are seeing recovery,” Ingram exclaimed.
He noted the impact of the pandemic has affected some small businesses negatively which caused them to close down or move to a different location.
“On the other hand we are seeing some new businesses open after COVID, so that is very encouraging,” he said. “It is like we are trading out those businesses, especially in the restaurant industry ... so the pandemic has impacted our businesses but we are on the road to recovery and that is what is important at this time.”
Ingram’s office, along with the various area chambers of commerce, has been encouraging people to shop locally in the wake of the pandemic closures.
“We have really been pushing for people to shop locally, not to overwhelm these business because we know that they can’t recover in a day or two, but we have seen a huge response and many people are staying closer to home using drive-thrus, pick-up or even spending an extra dollar in our county where they may have once spent it in Knoxville or somewhere else,” explained Ingram. “The CARES Act and stimulus money have provided a safety net for some business, though the money is not coming from our office, it allows them an opportunity to recover and get back on their feet.”
He believes some businesses may continue to utilize their current safety precautions after the pandemic comes to an end.
“We may see some businesses continue to use their shields at the register and cleaning precautions because they had to spend money on that equipment,” noted Ingram. “Some may be using them (the register shields) as a temporary measure, but I would certainly suspect that we will continue to see some of the safety precautions for some time.”
Ingram expressed his pride in the businesses that have reopened and continued to serve the community.
“I’m very proud of the businesses that have taken all of the precautions that would allow them to reopen back when the governor gave us permission to do so,” he said. “I am really proud of our citizens for supporting the business industry in the county ... I think as the months and days go by we are going to see better economic times in Monroe County just like we are in the rest of the state.”