The pandemic has been ravaging the Rio Grande Valley for about six months. While hospitalizations have appeared to be on a decline, the effects of COVID-19 continue to be felt in all aspects of life in the Valley and throughout the country, including local business.
According to McAllen Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Ahlenius, little has changed concerning the vulnerability of the local economy.
“Obviously, it continues to be a struggle for a lot of businesses,” Ahlenius said. “Especially since the $600 unemployment insurance expired at the end of July. That was a stimulus that helped keep folks spending money and putting money back in the economy.”
Ahlenius said that local businesses have begun to see indications that the public is spending less money at local retailers since the stimulus expired.
“That’s a concern,” Ahlenius said.
Another hindrance to local business, particularly restaurants, has been the limited occupation allowed due to orders aimed at maintaining social distancing. Currently, restaurants are able to operate at 50% capacity.
“That continues to be a huge restriction on their business model to be successful,” Ahlenius said. “They’re trying to make up for it with a lot of curbside and delivery type services, but with that restriction it’s a huge challenge.”
Ahlenius said that some businesses have continued to thrive under the current conditions, particularly professional services and retail businesses that specialize in products geared toward the medical field.
He explained that another dilemma facing local businesses is the lack of non-essential travelers from Mexico.
“That has impacted a lot of businesses that have their business model based off of Mexican nationals in the mix as far as shopping,” Ahlenius said.
He said that a key component in ensuring that businesses can begin to thrive again is to continue following the guidelines established by local officials: wear masks and practice social distancing.
“If you want to support local businesses, wear a face mask and do the social distancing,” Ahlenius said. “Do those things that allow businesses to keep staying open. That is going to be their only chance in terms of making it through this pandemic.”
“The success of our local businesses is going to be tied to defeating the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ahlenius continued.
He said that when COVID-19 gets under control, people will see the local economy begin to take off.
“Until that time, people are very cautious,” Ahlenius said. “Obviously, when you lose 22 million jobs in the economy, that has a huge impact on people’s spending power. Even though 9 million jobs have been added back into the economy over the last 30 to 45 days, there’s still a lot of people who don’t have full employment or are back working at the same level they were before the pandemic.”