Oxford emerging from pandemic stronger than ever

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, May 26, 2021

As communities remain focused on managing what we hope to be the final chapter of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are also thinking proactively about rebuilding a strong and efficient economic recovery. Oxford’s post-COVID economy looks very strong.  Already ranked as the 8th strongest micropolitan economy in the country, Oxford is poised to create an even stronger economy following the national recession that the pandemic brought us.

Small businesses are the backbone of Oxford. Our small businesses provide character and individuality to our community.  Walking around the downtown district creates an opportunity for visitors to explore our community, and to get a sense of our values and identity.  From a bakery, a coffee shop, a world renowned book store, and unique clothing and gift shops to the banking, legal and municipal services that are necessary for daily life, walkable local business enclaves found in different areas across our community invite shoppers to stay longer and interact with their friends and neighbors. A thriving shopping district indicates vitality and a healthy economy, producing a positive impression of the community overall.

As many communities are struggling, we are seeing growth and record sales in retail and real estate.  The number of condos sold in April 2021 was 48 percent higher than the next most active April in the last decade which was in 2014.  There were 69 homes sold in Oxford in April 2021.  That is 17 more homes sold than the next best April which was in 2018.

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The sales and special tax revenue amounts that we receive each month reflect the sales from two months prior.  So, the tax revenues received in May reflect sales in March.  We were thrilled to see that our March sales tax revenues were up 44 percent from the previous month and 49 percent from the same month last year.  Our 2 percent Food and Beverage tax revenues were up 52 percent from last month and 67 percent from the same month last year.  Our Hotel/Motel tax is on the rebound showing an increase of 47 percent from last month and up 54 percent from the same month last year.

Oxford needs the retail sales to continue to increase in order to maintain a strong healthy economic growth.  We are seeing a confidence level in all sectors of our economy that indicate continued growth.  We are encouraged to see the same growth trajectory that we were on pre-COVID.

Our community embraced outdoor dining during the pandemic.  As community leaders, we were focused on making outdoor dining in the downtown area a reality … quickly!  In order to do it quickly, we used metal barriers that we had in storage and made make-shift ADA sidewalks and ramps for pedestrians.  Was it beautiful? No. Did it increase the sales of every restaurant and bar that participated? Yes. And that was our goal.

Knowing that we must stay creative and offer fresh opportunities for businesses, residents and visitors, and knowing outdoor dining spaces and additional pedestrian areas will increase our sales, support our local businesses and creatively expand our tourism industry, we got busy. The East Jackson Streetscape improvement project is underway now and will expand sidewalks to make outdoor dining a permanent amenity for our downtown restaurants. This project is on schedule to be completed before the first Ole Miss home football game in the fall. Plans are also in place to take an underutilized area on the Square and transform it into a green space that will provide a place to sit and gather, as well as offer a connection between the commercial Square and the surrounding neighborhoods.

The impact of tourism on the Oxford economy cannot be overstated. Although the impact of tourism was down during the pandemic, travel and tourism still had a positive impact on Oxford and Lafayette County. In FY 2020, travel and tourism had an impact of $145.9 million spent by visitors to our community.  An impact of $13.6 million in state/local taxes can be attributed to tourism in 2020 which is equivalent to $730.85 in total savings per household in Lafayette County thanks to taxes generated by visitors to Oxford.  It is currently estimated that there are 2,045 direct travel/tourism jobs in the Oxford community.  SEC sporting events, mTrade Park baseball, soccer and softball tournaments, University of Mississippi special events and graduations, weddings, community sponsored events including outdoor music, Spring Runs, and Destination Oxford Cruise and Car Show are just some of the events that drove tourism in our community over the past year. Now, 2021 is on track to be the best year for tourism yet.

As I have campaigned over the past few months, I have been amazed by the number of people I have come across who relocated to Oxford to ride out the darkest months of the pandemic and decided to make Oxford their permanent home. Our city is growing at an unprecedented rate despite the national pandemic. People want to live, work, and play in Oxford.  As a result, people from all over the country are coming to invest in Oxford because they believe like I do – Oxford is going to continue to grow and thrive despite what is going on in the rest of the world.

Robyn Tannehill is mayor of Oxford. She can be reached at robyn@oxfordms.net.