A wide range of stakeholders representing local chambers of commerce and tourism organizations; as well as restaurants, bars and other hospitality-related businesses testified before the Senate Republican Policy Committee last week on the impact the state’s COVID-19 business closure orders have had on their respective industries.
According to testimony from Independent Fiscal Office director Matthew Knittel, the most recent data from this past February shows a 7.3 percent decline in jobs compared to last year. These job losses are concentrated in the arts and entertainment, accommodation and food service sectors. Additionally, small business revenue in the leisure-hospitality industry is down 55 percent.
The heads of the Lancaster County Chamber, Schuylkill County Chamber and Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber spoke to the impact the business closure orders have had on their local communities – including job loss and a drop in tourism activity – both of which have resulted in a decline in economic activity. They also cited challenges businesses are facing in filling available job openings and the importance of widespread vaccine distribution.
“That process is well underway and the end of the pandemic soon will be at hand,” said Schuylkill County Chamber President and CEO Robert Carl. “In the meantime, we must manage and balance the necessary public safety guidelines and practices with the essential economic recovery, to preserve our businesses, nonprofits and all they gainfully employ and support.”
The negative economic impact to local communities was also echoed by officials from several tourism organizations statewide.
VisitPittsburgh President and CEO Jerad Bachar noted his organization has experienced the cancellation or postponement of more than 480 business and sports events, representing approximately $336.9 million of direct visitor spend in the local market.
Happy Valley Adventure President and CEO Fritz Smith also noted the workforce challenges facing employers.
“Although there are other contributing factors, the enhanced federal unemployment benefits designed to help so many over the past year are now serving as a disincentive for some people to return to the workforce. As one of our restaurant owners struggling with workforce issues said, ‘the pandemic has trained people not to work.’ While this may be an over-simplified, personal opinion, it nonetheless reflects the frustration being felt. This is not just a problem for the hospitality industry. Our employers across industry sectors share this same lament,” Smith stated.
As has been widely noted, the restaurant and hospitality sectors have been two of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic and subsequent mitigation government orders. Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association President and CEO John Longstreet noted that the industry has been pushed to the “brink of disaster.”
“The most recent employment data from Pennsylvania indicate that our sector is still down more than 135,000 jobs, the largest drop off compared to all other sectors,” Longstreet testified. “Hotels have not fared much better. Between travel restrictions that remained in effect until recently and the suspension of tourism-related marketing, the hotel industry in Pennsylvania has a long recovery.”
A video of the hearing can be found here.