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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross holds discussion with Palm Beach County business leaders

Tourism, lost wages, impacts on small businesses among topics
Posted at 4:20 PM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-29 17:10:55-04

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Tourism and businesses have taken a beating because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Palm Beach County business leaders spent Thursday discussing the impacts with the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

The executive director of the Palm Beach County Tourist Development Council, Glenn Jergensen, told Secretary Wilbur Ross during a roundtable discussion that revenues are down slightly more than the Great Recession.

Jergensen said the employment numbers are concerning heading into the usually busy tourist season.

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"We would normally be at this time of year roughly about 90,000 leisure and hospitality employees in the county, and right now, we're running at about half of that," Jergensen said.

Jergensen also added that restaurants, food and beverage and cultural institutions are all down about 25 percent, and hotels are running with about 50 percent of the employees compared to a normal year.

Glenn Jergensen
Glenn Jergensen, the executive director of the Tourist Development Council in Palm Beach County, says hotels are currently only staffing about half the amount of employees compared to last year.

The Palm Beach County Convention Center has been sitting dark since March, and across the street, the cancellations have piled up at the Kravis Center.

Judy Mitchell, the Kravis Center CEO, told Ross the performing arts venue has refunded $6.7 million in tickets after shows were canceled, and it is refunding another $1.8 million due to cancelations announced last week.

Tourism, lost wages and impacts on small businesses were all part of the roundtable at the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce led by Ross.

"Employment, and a majority of the jobs that were lost, have, in fact, been clawed back. The problem is as things go forward, there's a step forward and a half step backward because of the coronavirus," Ross said, speaking exclusively with WPTV after meeting with local business leaders.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross

Ross has been traveling the country and said new unemployment numbers are promising, but he believes for tourism to bounce back, the travelers will need a confidence boost before flying to South Florida.

"Whether it's testing at the airport ... something dramatic has to be done to bring people out from the fear that they experience now," Ross said.

The secretary also encouraged local businesses to start concentrating on outdoor recreation, which is growing across the country. He also said that once there is a vaccine, he expects employment, and the economy will bounce back.