Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Beyer Praises Biden’s Economic Relief Plan — “Soon we will have a president in the White House, and Democratic leaders controlling Congress, who understand what economists have told us from the beginning–that in order to recover and rebuild from this pandemic you must first control the coronavirus and that rent and food are not going to trickle down to millions of unemployed Americans.” [Beyer.house.gov]

COVID-19 Self-Testing Kiosks Closed Today — “Stay safe on January 20. To ensure the safety of the community and Curative employees, COVID-19 testing kiosks in Alexandria will be closed on Inauguration Day. Pre-register for testing on Tues, Jan 19 or Thurs, Jan 21.” [Twitter]

Polk Elementary Principal Announces Retirement — “James K. Polk Elementary School Principal PreeAnn Johnson will retire July 1, 2021… Johnson was honored last year by Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. as ACPS Principal of the Year.”[Zebra]

ACPS Minority and Special Needs Students Struggle With Virtual Learning — “The report, compiled by ACPS’ Department of Accountability and Research, shows that middle and high school students earned D’s and F’s in greater numbers across all demographic groups in the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year compared to first quarter of the 2019-20 school year.” [Alex Times]

Accessory Dwelling Unit Decision Coming Up In Alexandria — “Accessory dwelling units, defined as small apartment-style residences sharing a lot with a larger house, would be allowed citywide under the proposal from the Department of Planning and Zoning and Office of Housing. Units are considered accessory dwellings when they provide a separate kitchen, bathroom and bedroom from the main house. They could be located in an addition of an existing home or a within separate on a lot, such as a detached garage.” [Patch]

Former Mayor Recounts Taking Iconic Photo of Coretta Scott King — “Silberberg’s photo has been published extensively by many publications. The most memorable was after Mrs. King passed away in 2006, when the photo was used by Target for full-page ads the company took out in The Washington PostThe New York Times and other major metropolitan newspapers to commemorate King’s service to the country.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s Weather — “A few clouds from time to time (during the day). High 44F. Winds NW at 15 to 25 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Low 24F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Experienced Tax Preparer — “The ideal candidate will have A MINIMUM of 5 years of Public Accounting experience, working in a tax environment. The ability to accurately prepare and review tax returns for various types of entities is a must! A desire to assist in expanding business growth and efficiency with fresh ideas is also highly desired.” [Indeed]

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Data put out today by the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) shows that nearly 8% of the city was unemployed in July, only a fraction improvement over June’s figures.

The VEC data showed that the city had a civilian labor force of 100,938 in July. Of that, 93,084 remained employed while 7,854 had filed for unemployment.

The level of unemployment was marginally better than the 8,050 unemployed in June. While the figures aren’t in for August, data tracked week to week showed that the unemployment filings increased in July but dipped back down dramatically near the beginning of August. Last week, those numbers hit the lowest levels since April as the local economy starts to steadily improved.

Still, the unemployment numbers remain significantly higher than they were before the pandemic. VEC data showed that in July 2019, unemployment was only 2.1%. Kendel Taylor, the city’s Director of Finance, warned that full recovery could be two years away.

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For Alexandria businesses, things are better than they were, but data from Opportunity Insights shows recovery is a gradual process.

Alexandria’s consumer spending, which was down 25% from January numbers in July, has climbed to 14.8% below January spending levels. The data includes all credit and debit card transactions from an area, so that includes online orders.

Alexandria also no longer has the largest drop in consumer spending. Though levels are still lower than Fairfax County’s, the city is faring better than Arlington, which has seen 23.3% decline in consumer spending since January.

Small business revenue has also followed roughly the same trajectory, making a steady climb since mid-June when the stay at home order ended. Revenues are still substantially down, though, at 26.1% less than revenue had been in January.

While the improvements are promising, Kendal Taylor, the city’s director of finance, is warning that a full economic recovery could be at least two years away.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Employment Commission said Alexandria’s unemployment numbers have continued to decline. There were 4,443 continued unemployment filings in Alexandria the week of Aug. 22 — still substantially higher than the roughly 200 claims before the pandemic but the lowest those figures have been since April 11.

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After several weeks of staggering increases, both measures of unemployment in Alexandria are improving for the first time since early June.

Initial unemployment claims — the first time claims are filed by someone seeking unemployment — and continued unemployment — claims to continue receiving unemployment — were both down.

Alexandria’s initial unemployment claims fell from a peak of 932 the week of July 25 to 336 the week of August 1 after five weeks of continued increases.

Continued unemployment claims fell from 5,904 to 5,660, part of a slower but steadier decline in continued claims.

As with the increases, the decreases were part of a statewide shift in unemployment numbers, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

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The number of new unemployment claims in Alexandria has reached levels not seen since early May, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

The latest numbers show that the number of new unemployment claims — those making their initial unemployment filings — has gone up to 932 for the week of July 25. Between July 18 and July 25, claims increased by 201.

The number of new initial filings has been steadily increasing since June 20, when it hit a low of 386 new claims.

While initial claims have gone up, the number of continued claims have held steady or gone down. For the week of July 25, there were 5,904 new claims, the lowest claims have been since May 2.

The third phase of reopening at the beginning of July appears to have done little to impact unemployment in the area. Alexandria’s numbers are also part of a statewide surge in new unemployment claims.

“The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) announced that the total number of initial claims filed from the beginning of the pandemic in Mid-March of 2020 through the July 25, 2020 filing week was more than double the average number filed during the last three economic recessions,” VEC said. “For the filing week ending July 25, the figure for seasonally unadjusted initial claims in Virginia was 42,966. The latest claims figure was an increase of 5,020 claimants from the previous week and rose to its highest level since May.”

Graphs by Vernon Miles

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The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) announced a full list of recipients for the program’s ALX B2B program — grant funding aimed at helping local businesses hold out through a sluggish recovery — and is moving forward on another phase of the program.

With the first batch of the funding being distributed to Alexandria businesses, AEDP said the process is starting for figuring out how to divvy up the next batch of state funding between the city’s needs.

“The city received a communication yesterday from the Governor that they will be allocating second half of local funding for CARES dollars,” said Stephanie Landrum, President and CEO of AEDP. “[The City] is going to receive the exact same amount as the first time. That was an important piece we were waiting on. We needed to make sure there was funding. Now that that news has come, we’re working with the City Manager to determine how that money will be allocated.”

The first allocation was divided between funding for grants alongside funding for rental assistance and other needs. Landrum said City Manager Mark Jinks will need to work with the City Council to see if, and how, the percentages of funding allocation need to change this time around.

Meanwhile, Landrum said AEDP has learned a lot from the first round of grant requests.

“We learned a lot about how businesses are structured in the city,” Landrum said. “The proposal for round two would expand eligibility.”

Requirements would change to provide a way for businesses who opened within the last year to prove their financial stability. Landrum also said various types of daycares and contractor-based programs that were excluded the first time around will be included, like barber shops whose employees did not qualify for the first round of the program.

“We recognize that in order for all of us to get back to business, daycare has to be a foundation that’s up and running,” Landrum said. “We had around five to ten daycares that received grants in round 1, but we wanted to reach out to non-profits and providers who are home-based so we can get as many daycares as we can.”

AEDP approved 303 small business grants of the roughly 335 that applied. Those who were deemed ineligible the first time around because of circumstances that will change the second time can work with AEDP to “resurrect” their initial application. Read More

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Gov. Ralph Northam has raised the possibility of moving back into the shutdown if coronavirus cases continue to increase, but the state’s data indicates many Alexandrians still haven’t recovered from the first shutdown.

Alexandria’s continued unemployment continues to hover around 6,000 people with new claims reaching mid-May levels, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

Every week since June 20, new unemployment claims in Alexandria have continued to climb, from 386 claims that week to 731 claims the week of July 18, the most recent for which there is data.

The number of initial unemployment claims increased despite of the city moving into Phase 3 of reopening, and the change seemed to have hardly any impact on the continued unemployment claims. The uptick for initial claims started roughly when Phsae 3 began and has only continued to increase.

The numbers remain dramatically higher than the pre-coronavirus unemployment figures, where the latest figures were roughly 33 continued claims across Alexandria.

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Temporary waivers granted to local businesses back in April will be extended — easing at least once concern while countless restaurants and retail locations struggle with low sales.

The extended waivers will allow local restaurants to operate delivery services, sidewalk vending, and more. These permits will now be valid until Nov. 22.

According to a press release:

These temporary waivers include Restaurant Deliveries and Pick-up, Hours of Operation, Sidewalk/Parking Lot Vending, Off-Premises Alcohol Sales, Outdoor Dining, and Curbside Pick-up Areas (originally approved for 90 days under City Code Section 10-2-24) with the potential for a further extension or shortened program upon a decision by the City Manager.

Certain land use approvals are also being extended by six months as the city gradually starts to restart its board and commission hearings.

“Land use approvals such as special use permits, development special use permits, BAR certificates of appropriateness and permits to demolish, require the applicant to take an action within a prescribed time frame (commence construction, open the business, etc.),” the city said. “Because many applicants are not able to make the normal progress on their projects during the COVID-19 emergency, the City will not count the period of the emergency against these time limits.”

Special Use Permits and other construction have timelines attached to approval with a deadline of when construction has to start or applicants are forced to file for permits again. The city said those timelines will be given an automatic six-month extension.

“Applications approved prior to the declaration of the emergency in mid-March will receive an automatic six-month extension on the time of validity of their DSP, SUP, DSUP, or BAR Certificate of Appropriateness/Permit-to-Demolish,” the city said. “Applications approved during the emergency will receive a pro-rata extension. The six-month extension is based on an assumption that the emergency will end on September 30, 2020. If the emergency continues, the validity period extension will be expanded automatically until the emergency does conclude.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Hopes that the third phase of reopening could have turned around a two-week trend of increasing unemployment have not borne out.

New data from the Virginia Employment Commission shows that continued claims — the number of Alexandrians continuing to claim unemployment week after week, has gone up to 6,410 during the week of July 4. This is the highest number of continued claims since the week of June 6.

Alexandria moved into Phase 3 of reopening July 1, in the middle of the latest week of unemployment data.

Initial claims — the first filings for someone seeking unemployment — also went up to 508 claims. This was the highest number of new claims since May and represents a sudden turnaround over the last two weeks after consistent decreases since the peak of new claims in April.

Arlington County saw a similar uptick in initial claims the week of July 4, while Fairfax County saw a similar bump the week before that but the numbers went back down the following week. Fairfax and Arlington both also saw an increase in continued claims the week of July 4.

Graphs by Vernon Miles

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After ten weeks of consistent downward trending, Alexandria saw its first uptick in new unemployment filings at the end of June.

Data released for the Virginia Employment Commission noted that for the week of June 27, there were 481 new unemployment claims — nearly 100 more claims than the 386 claims filed the week before and the first time new filings have gone up from the previous week since new claims peaked at 2,578 new claims on April 4.

Alexandria isn’t alone in this bump in new filings, however. In Arlington, claims jumped from 329 new unemployment claims the week of June 20 to 414 new claims the week of June 27. Fairfax County saw a similar bump, from 2,212 to 2,509 new unemployment claims.

On the bright side, the other half of the state’s unemployment claims — continued claims — has continued its gradual downward trend. On the week of June 27, there were 6,188 continued claims, less than the 6,306.

Alexandria’s numbers for continued unemployment claims peaked in the week of June 13 with 6,751 claims.

The slow unemployment recovery is consistent with what many local businesses are finding to be a sluggish recovery of their customer base as many Alexandrians stay away from shopping at local brick-and-mortar stores.

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