By Mary Marvin, Mayor, Village of Bronxville
May 20, 2020: I belong to a Westchester business group that gathers experts to discuss the economic health, business atmosphere, and future of our County.
We convened via Zoom last week and listened to professionals in all business sectors of the County give their assessment of the COVID19 effect on their industry and their forecasts for the future.
Transportation – Metro North
Between March 3 and March 20 of this year, Metro North lost 95% of its customers. The same loss of ridership was mirrored at New Jersey Transit and the LIRR. Interestingly, the impact percentage of the total on the reverse commute was significantly less at an 80% decrease.
Currently, trains are running once an hour in both directions. The most popular trains right now are very early in the morning with a six or seven A.M. arrival at Grand Central Station, with the vast majority of the passengers being essential workers.
Metro North, in a relatively recent study of commuter habits pre-COVID, learned that approximately half of their ridership in our particular area had the capability to work remotely at least several days a week.
An airline executive based at Westchester Airport forecasted more furloughs, reduction in schedules, higher ticket prices, and a significant decrease in non-stop flights. She believed we may need to get used to flying to Chicago first to reach some destinations in Florida.
As of May 15, Palm Beach was the nation’s busiest airport, thanks to general aviation (private plane/business flying). Our own Westchester airport is actually the second busiest airport in the country for private aviation, the sector of the market most experts believe will lead the way in recovery.
Going forward, experts believe the biggest concern on flights will have less to do with weather and bumpy rides and more to do with the comfort level of sitting within inches of each other.
Retail/Business Office Space
Not surprisingly, mom and pop stores in Westchester are in the most dire straits while Costco is having a record year.
General office space in the County is rebounding as the suburbs have the benefit of low rise buildings and minimal flights of stairs to office space, allowing for social distancing.
For example, a speaker familiar with the new Bank of America tower complex shared that based on the distinct possibility of the one per person elevator occupancy rule, it would take 5 ½ hours to fully occupy the tower.
As to residential real estate demand, the market is low on inventory but quite robust in potential buyers who now desire to leave Manhattan.
Unlike most other states, New York quite simply shut down the industry. Soon to ease up, the main issues going forward are in the social distancing requirements that are foreign to most building projects.
As an illustration, how does a sheetrock crew remain six feet apart? As there is a backlog in project starts, there will be higher costs for certain skilled tradesmen. Though the supply chain for raw materials is in decent shape right now, no one expects it to remain at the same level in the coming months.
Experts in the field encouraged all of us in charge of municipal projects involving petroleum, such as road resurfacing, to bid them now. Similar to the airline industry challenge, it will be a defining element to get tradesman comfortable again, working in close contact on sites.
Most organizations seem to work from the model of desiring live interaction. Ballrooms with 300 in attendance will most assuredly be the last type of gathering permitted in the post-COVID comeback.
Despite this, many experts in the industry think it might be an ideal moment to reimagine the non-profit matrix. Perhaps the formerly 300 person event space sellout could be branded differently across the internet and garner 500 people.
Sponsors might forego tables at testimonials for continuous website promotion highlighting their altruism that could then be disseminated to a much bigger audience. Fundraising strategy, though currently down by gift amount per person, may be in an opportune moment to enhance the volume of donors and gain a broader recognition factor.
The negative impact on all of the above industries most sadly and, most importantly, ripples right down to the dinner table.
Since mid-March, the major umbrella food bank of our County called Feeding Westchester has given away 4.2 million pounds of food. To put this in context, 10 million pounds of food are distributed yearly.
Many recipients are first-time visitors to the food banks who have been furloughed or fired from minimum wage jobs.
To purchase food on the open market for those in need will cost $850,000 per month going forward with an end date not forecast until 18 months out. The lines are so long as the need is so great that the National Guard still has a presence in the County packing pallets and distributing food.
Feeding Westchester was actually the first food bank in the country to ramp up in preparation for COVID-19.
As a direct consequence of the pandemic, the food distribution sites must morph going forward into healthcare and mental health care screening centers as we have so clearly learned those in need of food are also in need of so many other essential services.
Photo by A. Warner
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