The Future of Downtown, Part I: Job Loss and Recovery

More than a year after government-imposed shutdowns shuttered non-essential businesses across the country, both the national and local economies are still feeling the impact of the global pandemic.

Some businesses closed in March of 2020 and never opened again. Among those who opened their doors again in late summer and fall of 2020, services were limited due to health concerns and ongoing restrictions.

Now, with extended unemployment benefits to those who lost their jobs and with limited childcare options for those who need it, some of the workforce remains unemployed by choice and others by necessity. (The March 2021 unemployment rate in the Cincinnati region was 4.2%.)
Jill Meyer
It’s a complicated situation all around for both workers and employers.

Jill P. Meyer is President and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. She says that Cincinnati’s regional economy has closely followed the national trends in job loss and recovery over the past year.

“Cincinnati experienced a slightly larger percentage of job losses (25.5%) compared to the United States (24.5%), but also outpaced the nation in regaining those jobs back for most of June 2020-March 2021,” she says.

Meyer reports that Cincinnati’s manufacturing industry has experienced a greater share of job losses than the nation as a whole, which is significant because entry-level careers in the industry pay higher than other industries. This means the lost jobs were higher-paying jobs, which are harder to recover.

She also reports that the leisure and hospitality industry has been the hardest hit sector region-wide.

In Cincinnati’s Central Business District, many of the restaurants and service-oriented businesses cater to the needs of the workers employed by larger companies. But, with so many workers working from home rather than their offices over the past year, the customer base has dwindled.

In a vacant business district with no customers it’s hard to keep a business profitable which, in turn, makes it hard to employ workers.

“Jobs are still struggling to recover here, and we’re behind the country in terms of employment gains,” she explains.

“It’s certainly better than the peak of the stay-at-home order, when as many as half of all jobs in this industry were lost. But there is still a very long road back for our arts, entertainment and recreation, and accommodations and food services subsectors.”

It’s not the end of the road for Cincinnati’s Central Business District, though, and Meyer sees hope for a turnaround.

“Early in the pandemic, the Chamber team prioritized two things: keeping businesses alive and putting people to work.”

She continues, “According to the US Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey, two of the most pressing issues facing small businesses in the Cincinnati region are increasing their staffing and increasing their revenue.”

In terms of recovery, she cites Cincinnati City Council’s newly approved second round of restaurant stimulus. The Chamber is working to get some of the $4 million into the hands of restaurant workers. Among other things, this fund will be used to extend the Taste of Cincinnati All Winter Long initiative into the summer.

The Cincinnati Chamber Foundation is also partnering with the Johnson Foundation to launch a $100,000 grant program to support women-, minority-, and LGBTQ-owned small businesses opening in downtown, Over-the-Rhine, and Pendleton.

These are big steps, but a full recovery will require consumer support, too.

“Our business community is the lifeblood of our region,” she says.

“All business types and sizes play a role in a thriving economy, so I am thrilled to see more people supporting our local business and coming back downtown to go to events and eat at their favorite restaurants,” she continues. “It makes a huge impact.”

Don't miss part II in next week's issue: What do business owners say?

Read more articles by Liz McEwan.

Liz McEwan is a proud wife, mama, urbanite, musician and blogger. Follow her at The Walking Green and on twitter at @thewalkinggreen.