Summit County economic impact survey shows $115 million loss so far in 2021

A Highside Brewery bartender Brett Lomoro serves guests Tuesday, March 23, in Frisco. Summit County business owners reported a $115 million loss in revenue in the first quarter of 2021 related to the pandemic.
Photo by Ashley Low

Editor’s note: A photo caption in this story has been updated to correct the town in which the business operates.

The results of the Summit Prosperity Initiative’s economic impact survey are in, showing a year-over-year economic loss of $115 million from January to March despite improving business revenue.

Staffing levels and child care continue to be top concerns.

The survey is the fourth the Summit Prosperity Initiative has conducted in the past year. The initial survey followed the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020. The most recent survey provides an overview of the economic impact of the ongoing pandemic in the first quarter of 2021.

Summit Prosperity Initiative Project Manager Corry Mihm wrote in an email that the survey, which received 170 responses from a variety of industries around the county, shows an estimated economic impact of $115 million. Of that total, more than $42 million in loss is concentrated in Breckenridge. By comparison, the original economic impact survey, which encompassed March to May 2020, showed an economic impact of $321.5 million. June to August was estimated down $143 million. From September to December, the impact was estimated at $106 million.

According to survey results, the January year-over-year revenue decline is estimated to be 25%, February 20% and March 10%. About 57% of business owners are extremely or very confident their business will be able to survive for the next year while 17% are not confident.

“Compared to 2020 results, the extremely and very confident responses have improved as a result of opening up further,” the survey analysis explained.

Staffing levels also have improved but remain a major concern for employers, according to the survey. While 30% of businesses say they are fully staffed, 30% say they are understaffed. The most common explanations for understaffed businesses included a lack of applicants, a lack of skilled applicants and a lack of housing for potential employees.

The survey analysis cited understaffing as the main reason for 19% of respondents saying they could not open at 100% capacity within a week if they were allowed to. However, when asked what the most important thing the government can do to help businesses, respondents mostly expressed a desire to open at increased capacities.

A "help wanted" sign is posted in front of Rocky Mountain Canary on Main Street in Breckenridge on Tuesday, March 23. Many Summit County businesses are reporting staffing difficulties.
Ashley Low/For the Summit Daily News

Brianne Snow, executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, said that from her perspective at the nonprofit, staffing issues are due to limits employees have with how many hours they can work because of a lack of child care. She said workers also are continuing to leave the community.

Snow said this year’s mud season — the springtime period after the ski areas close and before the summer tourism season begins — might result in more people leaving the community. She said the offseason is financially difficult for people with less work and fewer visitors in town, so people who have been barely hanging on financially might leave. Snow also expressed concern about an increasingly difficult housing market for locals in Summit County.

“This housing situation is absolutely heartbreaking for locals, as well,” Snow said. “A lot of what we’re seeing is people’s lease is ending, and they’re not being renewed even if they’ve lived in the place for 10 years, and they can’t really buy into this market. So more so than making a choice to leave the community, the community is making that choice for them.”

As for child care, Snow said school has gotten to a point where it’s as consistent as it can be at this point, but there tend to be last-minute, closures in child care facilities, making it difficult for people to adjust their work schedules. Snow added that while people want businesses to open up more, they need child care and schools to open up, too, in order for there to be enough staffing.

Lucinda Burns, executive director of Early Childhood Options, said that while most child care centers are up and running, some are operating with fewer hours than before the pandemic. In addition, some home-based child care operations have not reopened. Burns said the biggest issue child care centers are facing right now is staffing, adding that there has been higher than usual turnover.

“Until they can fill those teaching spots, they can’t completely become full with students,” Burns said. “We’re hoping that they’ll be up and running with full hours and full capacity in the summer.”

Burns speculated that the high turnover of staff is due to long-standing issues, including lower wages in child care coupled with the high cost of living in Summit County. And that’s on top of the more challenging work environment COVID-19 has created. Burns added that prioritizing educators in the vaccine rollout has been “tremendously” helpful.

“We’ve certainly learned through all of this how critical child care is to our economy,” Burns said.

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