Alexandria, VA

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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It’s been a rough season for Alexandria businesses.

New data from Opportunity Insights, a Harvard-based team of researchers, shows that Alexandria has fallen lower than its regional neighbors in the percentage change in consumer spending. The data shows that consumer spending across the region started to tank around March 16, when the public schools closed, and for most of the region hit rock-bottom on April 1 when the Stay At Home order went into effect.

While Alexandria, Fairfax County and Arlington have all mostly been trending upward since then, that recovery has been slow. Alexandria’s consumer spending is down 25% compared to what it was in January, with Arlington not far behind it at 24.9%

Mayor Justin Wilson, who shared the data on Facebook, said that it was likely that the focus on hospitality industries in Alexandria was the reason the city was faring worse than some of its neighbors.

For local businesses, that data has been tangible as a struggle to adapt and survive amid COVID-19.

“This is our second week of being open to the public in limited numbers,” said Amy Rutherford, owner of Penny Post (1201 King Street) and Red Barn Mercantile (1117 King Street) in Old Town. “It’s been slower. I wish there were lines out the door, but it’s not.”

Rutherford said sales have been a mix of in-store sales, pickups, and online orders. While Phase 3 of reopening went into effect today, Rutherford said she’s been wary about easing off some of the capacity restrictions in the store.

“My team is still a little nervous about what it means to reopen,” Rutherford said. “I don’t think we need to do anything quickly… I think people in Northern Virginia are smart and they want to get out, but they’re being thoughtful and doing what’s necessary.”

The stores closed in Mid-March, but Rutherford said the month still had a strong showing because the beginning had been going to swell.

“Then April was not as good,” Rutherford said. “May was not as good as April. June was not as good as May.”

Rutherford said there was strong initial support for online shopping, but with so much else going on, Rutherford said the pace required to keep shopping online to keep the stores profitable was not sustainable. The store gets substantial business from tourism, Rutherford said, which is all but gone.

“We’re watching the news and always monitoring the cases,” Rutherford said. “We look nationally at where we are and in Alexandria where we are, and we’re taking the pulse of our customers and our team. All of that goes into the considerations before we make any more changes, [we have] to make sure everyone is doing well.”

Even so, Rutherford said it’s been nice to see some of her old customers in-person again.

“In-store sales have been nice,” Rutherford said. “It’s good to see people again and talk face to face, even though we’re behind a mask… Hopefully, we’ll ramp back up. For the year, it’s not terrible because we had a strong first quarter, but still pretty up in the air for what we plan to do or what it’s going to look like.”

The main thing Rutherford said has been a big seller has been puzzles, which people have flocked to ever since they’ve been stuck at home. While she enjoys the in-person interactions, Rutherford still said she hopes more people shop online rather than risking exposure at stores.

“The best thing folks can do is stay safe and not take any additional risks,” Rutherford said. “Then shop at the website or call in to come in when they can. Be understanding. I think people in NoVA are very understanding of policies and have been very patient. People have been kind to us.”

Image via Opportunity Insights

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In a memo to City Council, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP) laid out the path to recovery for Alexandria businesses as the city prepares to sift through the economic wreckage left in the wake of COVID-19

In a series of short term and longer-term phases, AEDP President and CEO Stephanie Landrum laid out a number of things the city can do to help support businesses in the city struggle to hold on through the pandemic.

On the shorter term, there were several tax and regulatory changes proposed by AEDP:

  • Deferring and/or extending payment timelines for certain business taxes
  • Suspending enforcement of certain regulations and special use permit conditions related to hours of operation, deliveries, off-premise alcohol sales, and outdoor sales and dining
  • Suspending enforcement of certain parking restrictions

Some of that has already taken place, with the city easing up on some of its parking and loading requirements, as well as lengthening hours of operation.

Landrum said there other steps that have taken place, or are being planned, for the initial phase of March 16-June 10. Some of those done by AEDP, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or Visit Alexandria include:

  • Creating “one-stop” newsletters and websites with regularly updated information on disaster assistance programs, policy/regulatory changes, and other initiatives.
  • Dedicated staff to assist business owners who are impacted by COVID-19. Staff is focused on helping businesses understand local/state business restrictions, landlord/tenant issues, and any issue not related to federal disaster relief programs.
  • ALX at Home, started on March 16, is a new platform launched to maximize revenues in the short term for businesses that remain open by adapting their sales format to current public safety requirements. The web hub highlights more than 150 ways residents can continue to support local businesses and includes 100+ restaurants, 50+ retail offerings, 11 museums and 6 arts organizations.
  • Farmers’ Market To-Go, highlighting dozens of vendors offering advance orders and pick-up options at Alexandria’s farmers’ markets.

For the second phase, from June 10 to Sept. 30, Landrum said the main focus will be on trying to get access to some of the $1 million in state-level funds being made available to the GO Virginia program. Landrum said AEDP is working to make sure some of that funding goes to support regional programs that would benefit Alexandria.

For local businesses during that phase, Landrum said AEDP is planning a series of webinars to help businesses through stabilization and recovery.

“AEDP is collaborating with partners at the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance NOVA EDA to implement a multi-part, free webinar series to help guide businesses through the stabilization and recovery phases,” Landrum said. “The series covers topics that will help businesses that remain in operation to assess the damage from the COVID-19 crisis and create strategies to stabilize, recover, and grow their business.”

The final phase, starting Oct. 1 and continuing indefinitely, will involve researching recovery from previous economic downturns and learning what lessons worked, and what didn’t. Landrum said AEDP will lead a “Business Recovery Task Force” to continue to assess the damage and propose solutions.

While AEDP and Visit Alexandria have scaled back their marketing of Alexandria, Landrum said restoring that will be important once the travel restrictions lift.

Landrum also suggested that AEDP administer a city-backed grant program.

“The business grant program, [Name TBD], will provide grants to certain Alexandria businesses, with a focus on offsetting costs related to reopening and operating in the new COVID-19 business environment,” Landrum said. “Awards will initially be funded through a combination of reallocated Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Bond Fee Revenue and new federal CARES Act dollars [and] additional sources of funding may be identified as the program is finalized. It is currently anticipated that the fund could range from $4-$6 million. The goal of the [Name TBD] is to accelerate the business’ return to profitability which will stabilize business income, protect jobs, and shore up the City’s commercial tax base.”

At their meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) the City Council is planning to look at how to break up the over $20 million in federal funding the city is expecting.

The actual number is currently vague, with city documents estimating it could fall anywhere between $20 to $27 million.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

Mayor, Sheriff Hand Out Diplomas to High School Seniors — “Yesterday, we announced three more deaths [from covid-19]. We have 26 deaths in the city. Every day, it’s another shoe falling. But this, this is something so positive.” (Washington Post)

Alexandria Economic Development Partnership Creating Local Business Grant Program — “AEDP will pull $2 million out of its ‘Alexandria Investment Fund,’ local incentive cash for retaining and attracting businesses, and then pair that money with federal funding the city received through the CARES Act.” [Washington Business Journal]

Burke & Herbert Bank Starts Borrowers Assistance Helpline — “You are not alone in any financial challenges you’re facing. If you cannot make your loan or mortgage payment, we need to know so that we can put a new plan in place to assist you.” [Facebook]

Visit Del Ray Launches Online Spring Pop-Up Market — “With social distancing restrictions in place, the Del Ray Business Association is moving its spring pop-up retail market online. Shop local with local artisans and home-based businesses and find the perfect gift for Mother’s Day!” [Facebook]

ALIVE! Receives More Contributions from Businesses – “Thank you to Democracy Federal Credit Union for stopping by the ALIVE! Food Warehouse this week with a big check! Donations support our purchase of food to distribute people in need. Also another thanks to Former Delegate Rob Krupicka Elizabeth’s Counter Alexandria for his continual support to ALIVE!” [Facebook]

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week — “With the abrupt end to the physical school year, our teachers have done even more to continue education with virtual classrooms and learning at home lessons. All to ensure every student at Hammond has the tools they need to reach their full potential.” [Facebook]

City Launches #SpreadCheerALX — “Messages posted on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #SpreadCheerALX may be selected by the City to be reproduced as signs for others to display. The City will request permission to reproduce messages in advance. Selected submissions will be printed, displayed on City property, and made available to residents who would like a sign for their yard or window.” [Zebra]

Porch Party Planned for Thursday in Del Ray — “The Del Ray Business Association is proud to present the first-ever First Thursday: Porch Party from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 7. In the spirit of Del Ray’s summer street festivals, the event features a wide range of activities that promote community while maintaining social distancing standards.” [Facebook]

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Morning Notes

ACPS Adjusts Hours for Grab & Go Meals — Beginning on Monday, April 20, meals will be available 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Cora Kelly School, Francis C. Hammond Middle School, Jefferson Houston School, T.C. Williams High School and William Ramsay Elementary School. [Twitter]

Scholarship Fund of Alexandria Nearing $50K Goal — “Thanks to the generosity of the Alexandria community, the Scholarship Fund awards approximately $1 million in scholarships to T.C. Williams graduates each year. Most of our scholarships range from $12,000 to $20,000 over four years and can often mean the difference between a student being able to afford college, or simply staying home. Thank YOU for Giving.” [Scholarship Fund]

NOVA Providing Free Online Summer School — “Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is using institutional dollars from the Federal stimulus to launch a new summer schedule of tuition-free online classes for approximately 70,000 qualified Northern Virginia high school students. This is an opportunity for rising seniors through graduating seniors to JumpStart their summers and earn college credit by attending up to two online courses that will run from June 1 to July 15.”  [NOVA]

State Budget Cuts Impact Alexandria — “Funding for the Freedom House Museum, early childhood education and much more in Alexandria are likely to be “unalloted” from the Virginia state budget due to the economic contraction caused by coronavirus concerns.” [Alexandria Living]

Sen. Warner Speaking at 11 a.m. DemBiz Webinar — “Senator Warner will discuss COVID-19, its economic impact on Northern Virginia, the Trump Administration’s response and more.” [Facebook]

Beyer says Trump Using Pandemic As Cover for Air Pollution — “It’s hard to imagine a more disgraceful abuse of the EPA’s mission than increasing the amount of toxic chemicals at this of all times, but the disgusting truth is that Trump is using this pandemic as cover to allow more air pollution from power plants, something his administration has long wanted to do. Once again they have chosen to make our air less clean at the apex of a disease that attacks our ability to breathe in order to benefit polluters. It’s a truly outrageous abuse of public trust.” [beyer.house.gov]

Senior Residents Enjoy Rock Concert — at a Distance — ” The concert took place near the facility’s Knoll Garden, and nearly 80 residents tuned in via their balconies, open windows and the facility’s in-house news channel.” [Alexandria Living] 

AEDP Hosting 3 p.m. CARES Act Meeting for Small Businesses — “Event Alert! #AlexandriaVA businesses: THIS MONDAY, together w the @alexvasbdc, we are hosting a virtual meeting w/speaker from the DC @SBAgov office to cover #CARESAct info. Meant to be mainly for #ALX biz Q&A, please register at: bit.ly/2zbtp5J.” [Twitter]

ACT Now COVID-19 Response Fund Benefit Concert on Saturday — “Cantor Jason Kaufman, Beth El Hebrew Congregation, will be presenting ‘Songs for Alexandria,’ a benefit for concert for the ACT Now COVID-19 Response Fund, a joint partnership between Alexandria’s Community Foundation/ACT and the City of Alexandria… The City of Alexandria will match donations, up to $100,000, to support the needs of nonprofit organizations experiencing an increase in demand for services as they support Alexandrian’s affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.” [Facebook]

Alexandria-Based International Nonprofit Needs Administrative Assistant — “This organization is actively hiring for this position. it will begin in a remote capacity due to COVID-19 and will transition into daily reporting to the office… The role requires a high level of initiative, problem solving, confidentiality, and personal judgement to handle both written and verbal communications with all level of staff and vendors.” [Indeed]

King Street – Old Town Metro Station’s Southern Entrance Closing for Construction — “On Tues. Apr. 21, the King St. Metro south entrance will close for 2 months, weather permitting, for infrastructure improvements. Ped access btwn buses/Diagonal Rd. & the 2 remaining entrances will be maintained via a temporary path.” [Twitter]

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Alexandria is a good place to weather a recession — potentially good news on a day in which the Dow plummeted more 2,000 points at one point.

The city ranked No. 23 on a new list of the 25 “Most Recession-Resistant Cities” in 2020, according to the website SmartAsset. Nearby Arlington ranked No. 15 on the list.

Alexandria and others on the list — Frisco, Texas was No. 1 — were ranked on the basis of employment, housing and social assistance available to residents.

“The Great Recession wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy, with unemployment peaking at 10.1% in October 2009,” a SmartAsset spokesperson said, in introducing the rankings. “Not all cities, however, were hit equally by this economic crisis and some are better equipped to weather the next downturn.”

Federal employment and growth spurred by Amazon’s HQ2 should help cushion blows from a new recession in Alexandria, though the last major downturn — the Great Recession of the late aughts — did have negative impacts on small local businesses and nonprofits.

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