It has now been a year since the initial steps to slow the pandemic were implemented. We asked our Focus on the Future panelists if the pandemic impacted immediate events and investments within their organization, the current status of the economy within their sector and what they see as potential long-term impacts resulting from the pandemic and economic crisis.
Has your business or organization postponed a major investment or event over the last year? If so, are you looking at moving forward with it in the coming months? What are some of the factors behind your plans?
Our law firm has not postponed anything. As a legislator, I stopped any public events. I plan to venture out in the public more now that I am vaccinated. However, I am still concerned about being a spreader considering how many people I meet. The studies look promising and I hope it becomes fact that once vaccinated, the risk is low to be a spreader. – Neal Collins, SC House of Representatives
Not major investments, but we eliminated several significant GADC in-person events like groundbreakings, industry announcements and investor meetings. We announced several benchmark projects in 2020 that weren’t given the normally enthusiastic “Welcome to Greenville”. We look forward to the chance to gather in person again and will follow state and local recommendations and safety protocols. – Mark Farris, Greenville Area Development Corporation (GADC)
Our business had to postpone a large meeting event for our brokers and our groups as it was an in person event last year that was to occur right around the same time that the state was shutting down due to the pandemic. This year we decided to make the event virtual and found that we had more attendees then when we held the event in person, due to the fact that it was easier for the companies to allow more of their staff to attend since they did not have to travel or take a whole day away from work for the event. We had a lot of people who indicated they missed seeing everyone in person, however, they also really felt that holding it in this way allowed them to include staff who would have otherwise not been able to attend. This could be something we will handle in a similar format in the future. – Angie Gossett, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina
Our organization was looking at a project that was going to require a significant investment from our budget. Just like so many destination marketing organizations, the reduction in travel due to COVID caused this decision to be postponed in the interest of saving money, etc. There are plans to revisit this project in the near future. – Kelly McWhorter, Discover Greenwood
We have our Annual Oyster Roast, our largest fundraiser, each November. We did not host this event in 2020, but we have it scheduled for Thursday, November 4, 2021. This event is hosted outside, with a typical attendance of approx. 600 guests. We have not discussed any changes for 2021, but the planning committee will definitely monitor the environment over the next few months. – Amanda Munyan, Laurens County Chamber of Commerce
We canceled all of our events in Carolina Wren Park. That was difficult for our community because it is a gathering place for entertainment, fellowship and fun. It was great seeing people in the park for our Holliday Ice season in December. Our plans are to roll out other event throughout the remainder of the year. It will be different because of the pandemic but it will be good to get back to our routines. – Terence Roberts, Mayor, City of Anderson
Like many organizations, all of the major events at Furman, including fall sports, were either postponed or converted to an online format when appropriate. It is certainly different playing football in the spring and we miss having capacity crowds in the stands, but we are grateful that our student athletes have an opportunity to showcase their talents in a safe environment. We remain optimistic for Fall of 2021 and look forward to welcoming fans back to campus very soon! – Liz Seman, Furman University & Greenville County Council
COVID has caused delays in every organization in which I am involved. As Chairman of the GSP Airport Commission, I have witnessed the incredible negative impact that COVID has had on the aviation industry. At GSP, we have had to delay several major projects, including our new parking garage. Some of our projects will move forward this coming year but others – like the parking garage – will be delayed until travel returns to normal levels. I have also noticed that COVID and the lack of in person meetings has caused delays in strategic discussions in some organizations. It is much more effective to be together in person for important discussions. – Minor Shaw, Chairperson, GSP Airport Commission
We had to postpone a job fair that we had planned right at the beginning of the pandemic. Most of the companies that were planning to exhibit at the job fair were able to advertise online for the positions that they needed to fill. We have held our monthly Board meetings online. – Stephen Taylor, Abbeville County Economic Development Partnership
Would you say that the general economic state of your sector today is better/same/worse than at this time a year ago (pre-pandemic)? How would you characterize your level of economic optimism within your sector for the remainder of 2021? Please explain.
Speaking from my perspective on county council, I would say that Oconee County’s general economic state is slightly worse than this time a year ago, but not clearly so. Unemployment is higher, but there are a good many open positions seeking employees. While the hospitality sector has taken a substantial hit over the last year, several new restaurants and hotels opened in the past twelve months. Real estate prices are near or above all-time highs. Home construction has been extremely busy, due in part to the EF-3 tornado that battered our community on April 13, 2020, while building material prices and trade labor rates are extremely high. As we have continued to invest in infrastructure and plan for the future, I am optimistic and confident that Oconee County (and all of Upstate South Carolina) will continue to grow. – Paul Cain, Oconee County Council
It is tough to say whether the economic state is better/same/worse. It depends on what lens one is looking through. However, I am grateful that the economic impact was not worse that it was. I am optimistic that the future is bright, especially in South Carolina, despite going through a pandemic. – Neal Collins
Our job is to recruit new business and industry to Greenville, as well as help local companies in their plans for growth and expansion. While we had a great year in 2020 for capital investment, total job creation was below average. Many companies used this downturn as an opportunity to invest in more efficient machinery and equipment and that sometimes makes workers redundant. I would rank the level of optimism for 2021 as generally higher than normal but fragile. Any additional risks introduced into the market might have a negative compound effect for a recovering global economy. – Mark Farris
I think its worth noting that the Commercial Real Estate (CRE) Market, particularly in Upstate SC, is extremely well-positioned. Over the past year many of the more negative narratives related to CRE have been based on data from the larger markets such as San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, etc. Our area Office, Industrial and even Retail product categories have had much less vacancy and less negative pressure than other areas of the country over the year. In some categories, we are already growing again as a result of being in a part of the Country people want to be, in business-friendly South Carolina, and in the Upstate particularly. – David Feild, Colliers International
Our economic state has certainly seen some declining changes in revenue due to COVID; however, there’s a strong level of optimism as we encourage safe travel and safely executed events that we hope will continue to gain momentum in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2021. – Kelly McWhorter
As a Chamber of Commerce, a member-based organization, we have lost quite a few members over the past few months which is never a good thing. However, we have pivoted our work and our focus over the past few months and I feel like our Chamber is stronger than ever. I feel very optimistic that our community, including business owners appreciate the valuable work we are doing and will support our efforts if possible. We also have a good amount of potential growth on the horizon in our County and I am optimistic this will help us all become stronger and more successful. – Amanda Munyan
I am involved in several philanthropic foundations and organizations both in North and South Carolina. The sectors we serve – the non-profit community, in particular – have suffered tremendously during COVID. Many have been in a crisis situation. Because they are in crisis, the people they serve are also in crisis. The sectors of our society served by philanthropic organizations are definitely in a worse economic state than before COVID and will continue to be in a difficult position during the rest of 2021 and, also, 2022. COVID has shown all of us the great disparities and needs in this community. I am encouraged by how well the philanthropic community, the non-profits, foundations, individuals, and our government came together to help people and organizations in crisis. It is important for our community to continue to rally together to help all of our citizens have a better quality of life. COVID has accentuated the issues that so many people in our community are facing daily. – Minor Shaw
The travel & tourism industry in our area is a bit of a mixed bag. Certain businesses such as bed & breakfasts, cabins, vacation rental properties, boat rentals, campgrounds, parks, outdoor outfitters, and fishing guides have done very well during the past year and have had record-breaking business in some cases. The restaurants, larger hotels/lodging properties, and group venues have struggled greatly. At this point, with vaccinations being administered and with COVID-19 positive cases declining, we are optimistic that business will continue to make gradual increases for the remainder of 2021. – Tim Todd, Discover Upcountry
Is there a long-term impact from the pandemic and economic crisis that your organization is still addressing? If so, how are you engaging and for how long do you foresee it being an issue?
With all of the turmoil that has gone on in our county, state, and nation, we have all been under more stress than usual. Mental health is probably the most over-looked health crisis in our country. Realizing this was a big problem, Oconee County Administrator, Amanda Brock, implemented a program to provide mental health counseling free of charge to all county employees (the co-pay is waived until further notice). This program removes one of the barriers that may prevent someone from seeking help, and a number of employees have already started to take advantage of the program. – Paul Cain
As a legislator, I do not see a long-term impact for the “organization.” If we are talking about impact from the pandemic, from education to economy to health, of course there will be significant long-term impact that legislators will be dealing with for years. – Neal Collins
A large part of Greenville’s economy is manufacturing-based and therefore seemingly more resilient during the pandemic than some areas of SC whose focus may be retail and commercial or even tourist-related. However, I think we realized very quickly how many people were employed in hotels and restaurants in our area as unemployment peaked at 12.2% in May of 2020. Now back down to about 3.6%, it may take years for our visitor and convention activity to rebound to pre-pandemic levels. – Mark Farris
Yes, we have a tremendous litter problem. This was a huge concern pre-Covid, but it has steadily increased over the past months, potentially due to the impact of Covid life, more fast food, less community gatherings for pickups, etc. We have many passionate people that have been addressing this issue in the past, but now more than ever, we need a collaborative effort blanketing the entire County. We are working with leadership across the County to create a plan to combat this issue now and in the coming years. – Amanda Munyan
The city’s economy is strong and we have more than a handful of developments under construction in the downtown business district. New home construction in robust throughout the city. I sense that more families are relocating to our city because of the workforce opportunities and quality of life arena. I continue to be very optimistic. – Terence Roberts
The effects of COVID have been particularly hard on the aviation industry. GSP has certainly felt the effects of the economic downturn. We have had to make adjustments in our food service choices due to fewer passengers; we have had to close one of our garages due to fewer people parking cars at the airport and we have had to suspend valet parking, among other things. We have put a number of construction projects on hold. The aviation industry estimates that it will be about three years before traffic is back to normal. We are bringing back our services for our passengers as quickly as we can!! – Minor Shaw
Pre-COVID much of our workplace fundraising was conducted in-person. In response, we have embraced a digital first strategy for workplace fundraising where possible. An online giving platform combined with videos and other digital content are provided to make it easier to reach employees with the message without relying on large gatherings. I foresee this remaining the core strategy in healthcare settings for the foreseeable future and believe it will be a key component even when in-person meetings are possible. – Paige Stephenson, United Way of the Piedmont