Alamosa and greater San Luis Valley weather pandemic
Consumer spending throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has kept Alamosa and the greater San Luis Valley floating above water, according to retail sales data released by the San Luis Valley Development Resources Group and Council of Governments.
Retail sales for January 2019 through September 2021 increased 164.5 percent, with the largest increases coming during the pandemic period of 2020 and 2021, show figures provided by SLVDRG Director of Research Hew Hallock.
Included in the retail sales numbers are both local store sales, as well internet sales which the state began tracking in 2019. Internet sellers began collecting state and local sales tax in 2019.
“Like all across the country, folks in the Valley spent the stimulus dollars they received – big time,” Hallock said.
Direct stimulus payments to citizens, increased unemployment benefits, unemployment benefits for self-employed and farmers, as well as business support programs like PPE were all sources of money that propped up the SLV economy.
Outdoor recreation provides boost
“The Valley also benefited from the shift in tourism spending to more outdoor recreation – from conference and conventions spending that would have occurred in Denver to more spending on outdoor recreation,” said Chris Akers, economist for the state demography office.
Alamosa’s hotel tax collections show that. The Alamosa County Marketing District lodging tax set a record for 2021, beating 2019 collections by 38 percent, according to marketing district figures.
“I think one could say that the SLV was less worse off than a number of parts of the state in terms of lost tax revenues,” said Akers. “But that is where the positives stop.”
While the Valley economy didn’t take the severe downturn feared, the San Luis Valley was one of the areas of Colorado hardest hit from COVID-19. Vital statistics from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows each county in the Valley set a record number of deaths in 2020 and the trend lines indicate that record could be eclipsed in 2021.
Akers said those figures, and other data points like job loss during the pandemic, have to factor in when looking at how a region of the state has fared during COVID.
“I think overall, I’d view the increase in the tax receipts that have been realized in the SLV as a sign of some ‘green shoots’ in the economic recovery,” said Akers, “but I think we still have a long way to go before we’re fully recovered and I think it would require a very narrow view of the data to say that the SLV weathered the third wave of the COVID surge better than other places in the state.”
Job data for the Valley
IN Colorado, the job losses in 2020 exceeded those in 2008 and 2009, said Akers. Alamosa and the San Luis Valley mirrored that trend. Alamosa had 372 fewer jobs in 2020 than 2019, and the San Luis Valley had a total of 26,073 jobs across the six counties in 2020 compared to 26,859 jobs in 2019, according to state data.
Job loss recovery has been steady in 2021, according to the state legislative council’s economic and revenue forecast released in September. “By June 2021, the San Luis Valley had regained 94.4 percent of jobs lost since the pandemic began, up from 77.6 percent in March 2021,” the Colorado Legislative Economic and Revenue Forecast noted.
“Employment in the (SLV) region is up 5.0 percent year-to-date compared to the same period last year,” according to the legislative forecast. “Although the number of unemployed individuals has declined steadily since November 2020, a growing labor force has kept the unemployment rate elevated at 5.6 percent in June 2021, or an average of 6.1 percent year-to-date.”
Hallock, with the San Luis Valley Development Resources Group and Council of Governments, predicts that with more federal stimulus coming, the Valley economy will continue to find its way.
“My own observation is there is still a lot of available funding for businesses,” he said. “With the first infrastructure bill enacted, more will be coming along. The next couple of years will tell how well the Valley and other rural communities fare.”