Lingering questions remain in Oxford’s economic recovery from COVID-19

Published 1:10 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2020

How long will it take Oxford and Lafayette County to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic?

The short answer is that we are still waiting on answers, and we might be waiting on those answers for quite some time.

Globally, the economic impact has been widespread and painful, despite the nation’s capital injection and recent small upticks in the economy. Locally, it’s resulted in the closure of many businesses and the limited capacity of many more.

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“I wish I had an answer for you about the depth of the economy and how we’re going to recover locally, but honestly, none of that information is apparent right now,” said Jon C. Maynard, the President and CEO of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to be a rather long cycle to get the economy restarted, considering the fact that we are so interdependent globally. But locally, we are going to be able to get the economy restarted quickly.”

Realistically, there will likely be some local businesses that will never recover from this tough stretch.

Businesses in the hospitality industry will take the hardest hits. Restaurants have closed their dining rooms and are operating as take-out only. Hotels, if they even remain open, have lost enormous revenue streams stemming from postponement of Ole Miss Commencement ceremonies and the Double Decker Arts Festival, as well as the cancellation of spring SEC sports.

Many of these economic concerns stem from the essential shutdown of the University of Mississippi. Oxford has some large-scale manufacturing, and those industries (for now) remain open. But in essence, the Oxford economy stems from the University.

“Our main economic driver is the University. Ninety percent of what the problems are is that the University turned off the switch,” Maynard said. “Canceling baseball, that was a huge blow; but then, they canceled classes and sent students homes. Then you have graduation and all that stuff. But when they turn things on again, the economy will recovery pretty quickly. People will be back, restaurants will be full again and athletics will be on. It’s like a switch.”

Essentially, everything economically is a global, and then local, trickle-down. The Asian markets, which were first hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic, affect the European and Western markets, all of which have a circular impact on each other.

In Oxford, the businesses most individually impacted have trickle-down effects themselves. A restaurant that can’t pay its rent impacts the property owners, who are then at a loss of revenue. If the property owner is without rent payments, they may not be able to pay their mortgage, thus affecting the banks.

How many local businesses were prepared for this sort of crises? Well, none, but some more long-term sustainable businesses have more savings in the bank to weather this storm. Many such businesses – Maynard said he’s had over 100 contact him in this regard – are more concerned about the financial stability of their employees than the individual businesses themselves.

For now, the Chamber of Commerce is urging businesses to fill out a business impact survey on their website, something they’re using to help strategize local recovery. The Chamber’s website landing page also contains other information for businesses, information about Oxford-specific policies as well as opportunities to help relieve or get relief.

“This is brand new. We haven’t seen this sort of impact in 100 years, and 100 years ago the economy was very different. So, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Maynard said. “What I would say to businesses is to be patient – things are changing by the hour. Help is on the way. The government has stepped in with some cash and there’s small business loans to be had. I would just advise them to communicate with their bankers and insurance company and local government. Talk to everybody and become friends; just don’t shake hands.”