Working Together Towards Economic GrowthMay 13, 2021
By Tyler Spencer, City of Carlsbad Innovation & Economic Development Department Intern
With the impacts of COVID-19 still prevalent across sectors, economic development and support has never been more pressing. The pandemic has tested responsiveness from city, state, and federal governments as businesses struggled to stay afloat in the midst of a tumultuous year that began with the nation going on lockdown in March 2020. Across the United States, the 100 largest cities implemented 2,800 COVID-related policies in an attempt to curb the fallout from the shuttering of businesses. These measures varied in local economies from information sharing & technical assistance to regulatory relief, and low-barrier access to capital. Based on a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the San Diego region saw a peak unemployment rate of 15.3%.
The City of Carlsbad fared slightly better as a regional innovation hub, but nevertheless the impact still took a toll. According to a sentiment survey conducted by the city, 68% of small businesses experienced a decrease in gross revenue of 25% or more and unemployment initially went from 2.9% to 13.8%. Those businesses with the capability to do so, quickly transitioned into remote work and e-commerce business models. Still, for many businesses it posed an existential threat. The food & beverage, hospitality, healthcare, small business, and retail & wholesale sectors all suffered from the lack of foot traffic.
The economic impact of COVID-19 required a suite of interventions and innovative solutions from local governments in support of their economies. The City of Carlsbad, the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, Visit Carlsbad – the city’s destination marketing organization – and the Carlsbad Village Association were quick to respond and worked closely together to provide ongoing updates and informational sessions for the business community throughout this period of economic uncertainty. Complementing federal and state action, the city declared a state of emergency halting evictions for tenants in good standing prior, halted utility shut-offs, waived utility late fees, and offered flexibility on waste services. Additionally, it launched a $5 million COVID response package that included $4.4 million for a small business recovery loan program for local businesses (The Carlsbad Small Business Loan Program, which was created as a COVID-19 pandemic relief program, concluded on Feb. 28, 2023).
The city has worked with a national economic development consultant to perform a qualitative and quantitative assessment of its response, compare the city’s response to other cities of similar characteristics and present implications to consider during the recovery. This process included five local stakeholder forums and an assessment survey with responses from 168 local businesses about their experience working with the city over the last year. This legwork and feedback will help guide Carlsbad’s Innovation & Economic Development Department as the world begins to return to some sense of normalcy.
So, there is light in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic as new insights were gained and a chance emerged to meet the moment. Knowledge sharing of best practices, strengthened regional collaborations, and the bridge between the city and local businesses has only grown. The road to recovery will not be short for the community, but with lessons learned, there is an opportunity to be more resilient, more inclusive, and more agile than before.
 Carlsbad Inclusive Recovery Assessment