What Will Doctor Order For Economy?

Here and elsewhere, we are listening primarily to doctors’ advice to deter the virus – to the detriment of the economy, and cherished jobs.

Tourists Gone, Empty Parking Lot, Brett's/Marina (4-10-2020)
Empty Parking Lot Downtown, Brett’s/Marina (April 10, 2020)
— Steve’s Marketplace —

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.

A doctor’s focus is on people’s health. An economist’s focus is on the health of the economy. These divergent sides are clashing in the battle against the coronavirus.

Most doctors probably know little about the economy. Likewise, few economists know anything about medicine. But here and elsewhere, we are listening primarily to doctors’ advice to isolate/quarantine to deter the virus – to the detriment of the economy, and cherished jobs.

At issue is the length of time this can continue. Ten million Americans just filed for unemployment. A flood of more claims is cascading our way. Small businesses of all kinds are hemorrhaging as they grasp for financial stimulus funds.

Empty Centre Street, Downtown Fernandina Beach. Photo by AmeliaIslandLiving.com April 2, 2020.
Empty Streetscape, Fernandina Beach (April 2, 2020)

On Amelia Island, the once-robust tourism industry has crashed into a wall of inactivity. Tourists are fleeing because most things are closed here, like hotels, restaurants, golf courses, etc. The Omni Hotel and its amenities recently shut down. In doing so, some 1,000 Omni employees lost their jobs for now, compounded by another 1,700 job losses here in other parts of the hospitality/leisure industry.

The job-loss numbers seem to multiply in tandem with the new coronavirus cases. The more cases, the more job losses. While many restaurants are holding on by to-go orders, other non-essential businesses do not have alternative ways to generate income.

The roadways throughout the county are empty. Likewise, the beaches on Amelia Island are vacant, by decree of Nassau County and Fernandina Beach officials. There isn’t much happening here, by design.

Confining entire families to their homes is not always ideal. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fretted about this before issuing a stay-at-home order for the entire state. DeSantis has witnessed during hurricanes how spousal abuse, alcohol and drug use, and strife often infiltrate households during such stressful times.

Meanwhile, business leaders have been calling on the Nassau County Commission to help struggling companies – and their employees. For instance, emergency small-business loans are being offered in Duval County through Vystar Credit Union. The loans are repayable under favorable conditions.

Something like this could help local businesses stay afloat, until federal funds arrive as part of the $2.1 billion stimulus package. The bed-tax receipts accumulated from prior years could certainly help tourism-related businesses make ends meet – through some type of short-term loan program. We cannot think of a better use of tourism-related proceeds.

Among the 50 states, Florida has been one of the hardest hit by its self-imposed shutdown. Tourism is the goose that lays golden eggs for Florida, and the goose has flown the coup. Revenue shortfalls are inevitable, not only in the state budget, but in local budgets.

While most of the job losses have been in the hospitality/leisure/entertainment area, other sectors have been impacted. For instance, healthcare workers are being laid off as elective surgeries and other normal procedures are being postponed.

No doubt, we are in a difficult situation. Which requires difficult decisions, like when to reopen the U.S. economy and resume normal operations. It’ll probably be done in a piecemeal approach, and it won’t come without criticism and headwinds.

We can begin by letting the non-afflicted work, while continuing to quarantine the sick and needy. Places that have not been over-run with the virus could be opened first, while restricting heavily populated areas where cases are widespread.

Hopefully, this will be what the doctor orders for our economy. And for our well-being.

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Steve Nicklas Financial Advisor
Steve Nicklas

Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor for a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns appear regularly in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, and on his website: www.SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has also published a book, “All About Money,” consisting of some of his favorite columns over the past 20 years. The book is available at local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].)