Unemployment in Audrain County topped out at 10.2% in April, the highest rate in the past 12 years. This isn’t neccessarily cause for alarm, however, as businesses and industries start to open back and rehire from COVID-19-related furloughs and layoffs.
Spartan Light Metal Products in late March laid off a majority of its Mexico plant workforce. True Manufacturing followed in April with its own round of layoffs. As industry starts to pick back up, so does hiring. Mexico Economic Development Director Russell Runge indicated those industries have advertised positions.
Calls to the Spartan and True corporate offices seeking comment were not returned as of Monday morning.
"[True] is tied a lot to the retail industry and a lot of the retail industry was shut down, so they weren’t manufacturing as many sliding door refrigerators," Runge said.
For Spartan, most of their work is by contract with automakers and they were not building vehicles, so that led to a lack of work, Runge said. He estimated about one-quarter of its staff is back at work.
"The [job losses] truly belongs to mother nature and what this virus really does to us," Runge said. "I believe it will show up as a blip in 2020, and everybody will be back to working for employers again."
The employment rate likely is better than current state data since it is two months behind, he said. Unemployment data from the Missouri Department of Labor for May is not yet released. There were a combined 1,715 claims in the county for March and April. The were 64 claims for the same time period last year.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development on Friday released information on an Economic Recovery Dashboard through Gov. Mike Parson’s Show-Me Strong Recovery Plan. It tracks total job loses since January, along with surveys of Missouri Small Businesses and Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act notices.
"In the economy, we’re starting to see early signs of recovery," state Director for Economic Development Rob Dixon said in the release. "Data driven decision making is a core value of our department and it is crucial that other leaders use this data to revitalize our economy and get Missourians back to work."
Businesses and industries will continue to rehire as time goes along, Runge said.
Mexico small businesses, while they did take a hit during the April and May closures, still fared pretty well, Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce Director Dana Keller said. There only were two small business closures and April sales tax figures actually increased, she said.
"The majority of the other [businesses] are back at capacity of what they started with," she said.
Most Mexico businesses were able to take advantage of loans from the small business administration as well paycheck protection through the coronavirus relief bill, Keller said.
While Audrain County has 122 cases of COVID-19, only 7 remain active, and there were no new cases for five days straight as of Monday. So, that is a positive sign that residents are doing the right things in staying home when necessary to help limit the spread of the virus.
"I think the heat works in our favor that we will be able to get our feet back on the ground," Keller said. "It depends on if people continue to social distance as they should, stay out of huge groups and use reasonable caution."
If there is a second wave in the fall, the knowledge gained from this spring will be used in response efforts by businesses, she said.
The chamber, on its website, listed resources for small businesses as well as a survey to gauge which businesses, mostly restaurants, are open or adapted their services to remain open. Survey data was then compiled into a Facebook group serving as a restaurant guide for Fulton and Mexico.
"We had things like Tacos and Tequila put in a drive-thru window as things happened," Keller said. "They said, as a business, we need to offer [this]. Most restaurants began delivering and provided bulk purchases to consumers."
Retail businesses like Martha Rose Gifts and Home Decor had daily specials and online shopping, while The Sparkly Pig was able to covert some of its business to online.
"Even though [Sparkly Pig] has returned to regular business hours, they still are doing that Thursday evening shopping experience," Keller said. "There was nothing fun about [the closures] and we hope it doesn’t happen again, but really it was wonderful to see how tough everyone was and figure out ways to continue to do business in some capacity."