Facing The Challenges Brought From 2020
By: Josh Cross, Interim CEO & President of the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce
We’ve made it out of 2020. However, before this year picks up too much speed, I want to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead and the intentionality we need to establish as a community to join together and move forward towards a better 2021. Recently Pacifica Commercial Realty released their quarterly Retail Market Report for the tail end of 2020 (Q4). Their findings highlight trends that our community and San Luis Obispo County will face moving into 2021.
Historically, San Luis Obispo County has enjoyed a robust retail economy leading to low vacancies on commercial properties. In the past, even when there were high-profile closures from retailers like the K-Mart in Atascadero and the JC Penny’s in Paso Robles, those were due to national consolidation trends and not necessarily a softening of demand at the local level. This is something confirmed by a wave of new businesses opening in the North County over the past few years such as Grocery Outlet, Outdoor Supply Hardware, and Wild Fields Brewhouse, to name a few.
However, due to the pandemic and rapidly changing shopping habits and overall retail climate, the future of property demand for retail space is only expected to grow about 1% annually in our County. We’re already starting to see this play out. Investors are opting to renovate existing retail spaces rather than build new ones. Locally, one exception is Z Villages who are constructing the La Plaza and Block Shop projects. They have intentionally chosen to invest in our community, creating new spaces to support business growth and local employment.
Another trend that’s swelled due to the pandemic is the continued transition to online shopping. An increasing number of shoppers, locally and nationally, are moving their purchases from in-store to online. This is an area where our local economy could improve and is why the Chamber team has facilitated dozens of workshops and webinars to help our local businesses make this transition. We’ve also built additional private offices in BridgeWorks Coworking to help meet the needs of new online businesses and startups in our community that may not be currently seeking retail space.
A final and disheartening trend is that of a falling labor market. Over the past decade, the SLO County market has flourished. In fact, in 2018, several businesses vocalized their challenge of finding qualified employees due to the low unemployment rate, which is why the Chamber co-hosted the State of the North County event to discuss how to find employees in a thriving economy. Today, we are faced with a different reality where unemployment has dropped from 3.0% in February 2020, to a high of 13.7% in April 2020, to the current rate of 6.7%. According to the Pacifica Report, tourism-related jobs in the County are most likely at risk of long-term displacement, as global travel is likely to remain slow through 2021. The Pacifica Report further states that a full recovery in this sector is not expected until 2023. Over the past twelve months, this industry has lost 23% of its workforce. In contrast, the reverse is happening in tech and energy. Over the past months, the labor market has grown (and is expected to increase) with local companies like Amazon (SLO), Land Gorilla, and A.M. Sun Solar.
What all of these points from the Pacifica Report clarify is the opportunity we have as a community to come together to do two big things. The first is to support our local businesses, whether in-person or online. The second is to support one another and organizations serving families, friends, and neighbors that have hit hard times due to the falling labor market. Together, we can continue to navigate forward and far away from 2020. Let’s all make our community Atasca-mazing.
-Josh Cross, Interim CEO – Atascadero Chamber of Commerce
 Pacifica Commercial Realty Retail Market Report
 San Luis Obispo County Workforce Development Board
Pacifica Commercial Reality & CoStar. (2020). Retail Market Report San Luis Obispo CA.
Interim President & CEO of the Atascadero Chamber | Josh Cross