Eric Hoppenbrouwer Guest Columnist
It has been a little over a year since the novel coronavirus was officially designated a pandemic. Governments the world over responded to this new strain of a respiratory illness in very different ways. Effects of the virus and responses by governments have shaped changes to our way of life that will be felt for years to come. Lockdowns, social distancing, occupancy restrictions, and new sanitization standards most likely saved lives. Unfortunately, they also hampered the economy.
Our community is fortunate that the Board of County Commissioners moved decisively. They quickly put CARES Act funding in the hands of needy businesses and nonprofits on the Space Coast, minimizing the economic effects of COVID-19.
Eric Hoppenbrouwer is the executive director of Business Voice Political Committee.
According to publicly available data, the global gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 4.5 to 6 percent from 2019 through 2020. During the same period, the US GDP decreased by 2.3 percent, and the Florida economy contracted by 6 percent. The big question is – how did the Brevard County economy fair in 2020? While GDP data is not tracked at the local level, the unemployment rate is a suitable way to evaluate a local economy’s current health. To date, Brevard’s unemployment rate of 4.5 percent has fared better than at the state (4.8 percent) and national level (6.3 percent). Since the peak in April of 2020, the total number of unemployed people in Brevard has fallen by approximately 60 percent - according to The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Florida Scorecard. Putting these employment numbers into context Volusia, the Florida county closest to Brevard in population, has a higher unemployment rate (5.1 percent), and more unemployed people than Brevard, with 48,000 fewer residents.
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One good reason the Space Coast’s economy performed well over the last year is undeniable. Brevard County’s small business and nonprofit economic relief grants helped with challenges linked to the state and federal COVID restrictions. CARES Act funding has been distributed to 1,351 small businesses and nonprofit organizations – totaling $12.4 million awarded in up to $10,000 grants. In addition to the initially allocated grant funding, Commissioners Curt Smith and Bryan Lober committed up to $2.5 million each in two separate programs.
Commissioner Smith’s program supplements the initial $10,000 grants with up to an additional $20,000. This program helps small businesses and nonprofit organizations demonstrating a negative economic impact above the initial $10,000 grant related to the COVID-19 public health emergency. As of April 12th, Commissioner Smith’s program has approved 118 additional grants totaling $2.49 million. Commissioner Lober’s small business and nonprofit program provides funds of $5,000 to organizations, with owners living in Brevard County that qualified for the initial grant of $10,000. Under his program, 346 small businesses and nonprofits have qualified for the additional funding. Commissioner Lober’s plan has distributed $1.825 million to date.
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The business community has showed incredible toughness during the coronavirus pandemic. We should applaud the Board County Commissioners and Brevard County government for their integral role in supporting our small businesses and nonprofits. As restrictions are lifted across the country, the Space Coast is primed to continue as a national leader economically. This claim of economic leadership is not just an unsubstantiated opinion. The Space Coast is on the Milken Institute’s “Best-Performing Cities” index at number two for 2021 – jumping eight spots from 2020. Plus, a report from the Florida Chamber of Commerce last year ranked the Space Coast as the second most industrially diverse County in Florida.
The community would not be in a favorable position today – over one year into this public health crisis - without the massive efforts from our local leaders. The Board of County Commissioners demonstrated steady and strong leadership at a critical time when our local businesses, and the public-at-large, needed it the most.
This op-ed was published by Florida Today on April 27, 2021