Ferguson Unrest?s Effect on Local Economy is Ambiguous

FergusonAfter the August protests and riot, St. Louis development consultant Ken Nuernberger was visited by a New York real estate investor.

He?d watched the news about Ferguson, and wanted to see all the damage. ?He thought that it was like half of Brooklyn had burned down,? Nuernberger said.

So Nuernberger drove him up West Florissant Avenue, past a mile and a half of boarded-up storefronts and the burned-out QuikTrip.

?This is it?? he asked.

Yes, Nuernberger said. That?s all.

The first round of protests, looting and burning ? televised worldwide ? left outsiders with an exaggerated image of St. Louis as a scene of turmoil and destruction.

Then came the Thanksgiving week eruption, which spread to South Florissant Road in Ferguson and South Grand Boulevard in St. Louis, and the world again viewed the region through tear gas and flames. Images of angry protesters, looters, riot police, soldiers, burning buildings and police cars in flames hit front pages and led newscasts around the world.

What must they think now?

That question is troubling St. Louis business leaders and economic development officials. Will outsiders understand that the riot zones were small corners of a big metro area? Could the region?s damaged image scare away business and cost jobs?

Local experts think it might, spreading the economic pain beyond Ferguson and Dellwood to the broader metro area.

?The image goes way beyond the reality,? said Denny Coleman, chief executive of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, the business promotion arm of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

But image counts. Ed Bryant, chief executive of the St. Louis Minority Business Council, says he?s trying to sell his sister in New York on the idea of moving to St. Louis. Clashes between police and protesters spoil the sale.

?She says the city is not as progressive as I?ve been telling her,? he said.

It also makes it tougher to drum up business for minority employers here. ?It?s depressing,? Bryant said.

The early economic statistics, from before the latest violence, paint a mixed picture.

The metro area job count fell by 1,600 in August, the month of the first protests and looting, and another 1,600 in September before gaining back 700 in October, the last month for which figures are available through the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, the nation as a whole gained jobs through all that period.

But the local job decline is barely noticeable in a metro area with 1.336 million jobs, and the statistics don?t tell the cause. The region still had 19,000 more jobs than in October of last year.

Surprisingly, the turmoil didn?t seem to scare many businesspeople or conventioneers away. Hotel occupancy in the metro area improved from the comparable months last year. Hotel stays rose by 2.4 percent in September and 5.8 percent in October, according to the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

The numbers may have been boosted somewhat by the ?Ferguson October? protests which drew demonstrators from elsewhere, and the international media swarm that covered it.

Source: (TNS)