Salt Lake County Regional Development News
September 02, 2020
Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, what is Salt Lake County's economic outlook?
The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute is always a key source to fascinating data and insight into the local economy.
Natalie Gochnour shared critical information for Salt Lake County leaders and decision makers as they assess impact of the pandemic and carry out recovery policy and initiatives in September 2020.
Utah currently holds the lowest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 4.5%.Year-over-year percent job change comes in at -1.8% — only surpassed by Idaho.
Salt Lake County Perspective
Salt Lake County tracks the state. It stacks up well to other urban counties, according to the Institute. New weekly unemployment claims in Salt Lake County have consistently decreased since Week 14 of 2020, topping out around 15,000. July 2020's unemployment rate in Salt Lake County was 5.7%.
The economic diversity in the county also provides significant resiliency; Utah has the highest score of economic diversity in the U.S., according to the Hachman Index Score. Salt Lake County has the most economic diversity of any county in the state with 94.1. The second most diverse is Weber County.
Success in public health is directly tied to the recovery of the economy. As strides are made in limiting the spread of COVID-19, consumers face safer environments to engage in the economy.One point of emphasis from the Institute is that "face coverings have been one of the most important economic tools." Since the face covering requirement made by Salt Lake County in late June (which now extends through the rest of 2020), the region has seen a decrease in the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases.
Looking to the Future
Economists right now are looking at the COVID-19 fiscal cliff following the CARES Act, stimulus checks issued in April and the extra pandemic unemployment expiring at the end of July. Enter: The cliff. Gochnour said it was imperative another stimulus be passed.
As it stands, multiple stimulus packages have been debated by Congress, in addition to President Donald Trump's executive orders. Moody's Macro Model suggests $1.5 trillion is needed.
Gardner Institute: Changes to Watch For
There are four structural changes to watch for in Salt Lake County's economy as we navigate long-term recovery.
- New Banking Paradigm
- Tech-enabled services
- Reckoning of commercial real estate
It's anticipated that shorter supply chains will become more common, and remote work and technology-enabled services have been significantly accelerated due to COVID-19. The behavioral changes of remote work and sales increases the risk of current and future commercial real estate.
"Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next," author Arundhati Roy has said.
Of course, there have been winners and losers in the pandemic. Taxable sales in Salt Lake County have shown that. While industries like food service, accomodations, entertainment and recreation have seen massive declines, online shopping, sporting goods, and food stores have seen incredible increases. It will be interesting to track those changes through the rest of 2020.
Is the economy back to normal? No. But in Salt Lake county, it's on its way and trends upward.
Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute's entire Salt Lake County report and presentation given in September 2020 is available for viewing here.
For more COVID-19 economic information and resources, visit slco.org/covid-19/.
Sandy Butterfly Artists' Business Evolves with COVID-19
Did you know the average butterfly lives less than two weeks?
Some only live three days.
The enchanting insects are found in every habitat in the world, except Antarctica, from deserts to tropical forests. At least 33 different kinds are found in the state of Utah alone.
Among many of us fascinated with butterflies is Sandy resident and small business owner Zell Schaal. She happened to visit a butterfly preservation farm while traveling in 2010, and it left a lasting impression.
Zell learned about butterfly farming, its positive benefits, and obtained a license — from U.S. Fish & Wildlife and an international organization — to be able to import naturally deceased butterflies from hundreds of preservation farms all over the world.
This education process is a big part of Asana Natural Arts' business. They educate customers not only on the different species of butterflies and their characteristics, but how they lived and came to be a part of beautiful art and jewelry. Each crafted piece comes with a card explaining the Latin science name, nickname based on characteristics, where they’re raised and type of diet they may have.
The fragile butterflies originally come folded inside paper envelopes, after which Zell and her business partner and husband, Jake, hydrate and spread the wings back open. After that, depending on the condition and shape of the wings, they are hand cut into different forms – taking shape in a shadowbox or flower arrangement or in earrings, necklaces, and other jewelry.
Among Asana Natural Arts’ most popular sellers is the Blue Morpho, an iridescent blue that’s metallic and shimmery on one side of the wings with brown owl eyes on the back. Another is the Sunset Moth, named so for its greens, yellow, and oranges. Then, there’s perhaps the most well-known among Americans: Monarchs.
“Asana is a handmade business,” Zell said. “A lot of attention and energy goes into this. I love nature, I love the mountains; I’m from Utah. I want to connect people to nature with butterfly art.”
In recent years, Zell formed a partnership with Thanksgiving Point’s new Butterfly Biosphere in Lehi to obtain butterflies that lived and died right here in Utah.
“We buy all those dead butterflies and repurpose them and incorporate them into art. We recently were inspired to do new designs working with damaged wings by creating mosaic windows.”
Instead of a whole butterfly, the art is made of window patterns with wings behind them — a new, unique concept. The abstract butterflies are one way Asana is working to adapt and grow in 2020.
COVID-19 strained two of Asana’s three revenue sources: live festivals and wholesale inventory sold to retail gift shops. Online sales also saw a dip at the beginning of COVID-19, but then came back up. In order to adapt to the pandemic’s impacts, they launched a new Asana Natural Arts website and are creating their own appointment-based retail space in anticipation of holiday shopping this fall.
“When you realize how much money you’ve lost, it’s hard to look at the numbers,” she said.
In order to adjust the business, Zell applied for Salt Lake County’s Small Business Impact Grant in both Round 1 and 2 and was approved, with a little help after calling the free Hotline (385-468-4011) to answer some questions.
“The grant was awesome. I needed it to transition. I hope what I do works, and my online orders are up. We’re building on our online presence in anticipation of a strong holiday season.”
When it comes to what might aid fellow small businesses like Asana Natural Arts, Zell thinks it’s imperative businesses get help with establishing online storefronts if they don’t already have one.
“It better be a part of their plan; it’s the future. It needs to be an integral part.”
If you’re a small business or artist like Zell Schaal, learn more about Salt Lake County’s COVID-19 grant program today at slco.org/covidgrants/. Applications are still open and being accepted every day.
August 14, 2020
2020 has been an especially difficult year for businesses in Utah’s tourism and recreation industries.
The state’s recommendations for travel during COVID-19 still ask residents to limit non-essential travel as much as possible — though much of Utah is in the low-risk category.
Early concerns about COVID-19 community spread prematurely ended Utah’s ski season, with many resorts choosing to close weeks early. For a short time, national and state parks were also closed to the greater public; all have since reopened. However, resorts' season pass pre-sales for 2020-21 are already underway, and those that provide support services are hopeful visitors will return despite the added challenges of the pandemic as Americans look for domestic destinations.
“We’re growing optimistic about skiing and the winter,” said Melanie Marier, CEO and owner of Express Shuttle.
According to the Kem C. Gardner Institute, “Utah’s tourism economy has been on an upward recovery since April  in the areas of visitation, employment, and hotel occupancy.”
Express Shuttle is one business impacted by COVID-19 that has served traveling Utahns and visitors for more than 30 years — from skiers to business conference attendees. Beginning in the '90s, it was the largest airport shuttle company serving the Wasatch Front.
“By encouraging the public to share the ride and by utilizing the carpool lanes on the freeways, Express Shuttle helps take vehicles off the highways, reduce traffic congestion, pollution, and wear and tear on our roads,” according to Melanie.
During the pandemic, Express Shuttle has seen an increase in local business, rather than out-of-state, after it temporarily closed March 21-June 1 due to heavy COVID-19 disruptions in travel. The business operates with a mix of owner-operators and Express employees — totaling about 30 drivers. It’s doing approximately 15% of what it did in 2019.
“It was a lot of stress reopening, and there were ups and downs, but once we returned, our loyal customers were quick to come back and reschedule,” Melanie said.
Express Shuttle saw a good increase in reservations 'til August. The business’s biggest goal is to stay a COVID-free company. To do that, drivers are utilizing masks, gloves, sanitizer and cleaning high-touch surfaces between rides.
Express Shuttle applied for and received a Small Business Impact Grant in Round 2 after being ineligible in Round 1.
“I’m staying in the black until the winter comes,” Melanie said. “I was trying to make things work, and the timing of the business grant was perfect. It will allow me to give staff as many hours as possible.”
Until then, residents and visitors are being asked by the State of Utah to support locally-owned businesses — like Express Shuttle — when traveling and venturing to destinations off the beaten path.
If you’re a small business like Express Shuttle and have been impacted negatively by COVID-19, learn about the Small Business Impact Grant, and apply today at slco.org/covidgrants/.