Counting money with hands

According to an Aug. 14 Wall Street Journal story, “U.S. households boosted retail spending 1.2% in July, the third straight monthly increase despite a rise in coronavirus infections.”

At the risk of bragging, the West Valley might comment: “That’s nothing!”

Despite slowdowns and shutdowns of restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters, the Goodyear/Avondale/Buckeye economy is not just surviving the COVID-19 pandemic but thriving through it. The West Valley economy soon could get another boost: Amazon recently purchased 90 acres in Goodyear. The global giant has not announced plans for that site and another West Valley property, but may do so soon.

Deliveries by Amazon, FedEx and other companies seem to be the only “drop off” the West Valley is experiencing during the pandemic.

There has been no “corona-dip” in Avondale, where the city’s sales tax revenues were up every month in 2020, compared to 2019. 

Even March and April—the shutdown months—showed slight increases.

Avondale’s six-month total of sales tax revenue increased by 9%, from $25.6 million to $27.8 million.

Buckeye is also holding strong, according to a recent report by Bill Kauppi, the city’s chief financial officer.

He noted transaction privilege tax (commonly referred to as “sales tax”) revenue, the largest revenue source for the city’s general fund, is up 20% compared to last year’s figures.

While a construction boom is responsible for more than half of that, retail sales tax revenues were up a stunning 26%.

“To date, COVID-19 has had minimal effect on the overall TPT collections,” Kauppi said.  Sales taxes from restaurants and bars were down by about $50,000, with hotel-motel sales tax down about $40,000. “Since March, the city and chamber assisted with a ‘Shop Local’ campaign for all businesses,” Kauppi said.

In Goodyear, Doug Sandstrom, the city’s finance director, said he has been presently surprised by the last few months—despite slowdowns.

“It’s dramatically different from what we forecasted when the coronavirus (pandemic) started,” he said. “We went into this not knowing what to expect, having never been through a pandemic. We took what we thought was a conservative approach—at the time we questioned if it was conservative enough.

“Then our sales taxes kept coming in—more than they were in the past.”

Indeed: Goodyear’s 2019-20 fiscal year, which ended June 30, was better than 2018-19—in a big way.

Figures released last week show Goodyear’s sales tax and construction revenues increased by 36%, surging from $65 million to $89 million.

A big part of that was construction revenue doubling, from $16 million to $32 million.

Yet sales tax revenue alone increased by 15%, from $48 million to $56 million.

Retail sales taxes increased nearly 30% for the year—finishing powerfully, with a 45% ramp up in June compared to the same month in 2019.

Perhaps the biggest shocker is that restaurant and bar sales taxes managed to increase by 1.3%, despite bars being closed for nearly two months and restaurants having stop-and-go closures due to the pandemic.

The restaurant and bar category in Goodyear also finished the fiscal year strong, up nearly 7% this June compared to last June.

“It’s been very surprising,” Sandstrom said. The local economy, he said, has “been pretty solid all through the pandemic. 

“Because we’re so fast growing, we’re a young city, the economy is more set up to handle shocks to the system,” he mused. “The variety of businesses here and variety of people here really helps insulate us.”

A growth year in the midst of a global pandemic is impressive, Sandstrom noted: “It shows the strength of Goodyear and the West Valley in general.”

The Goodyear financial staff thinks stimulus checks and paycheck protection program loans have helped with consumer confidence. “We’ve been trying to dig in and figure out what causes some of these things,” Sandstrom said.

Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is huge: “We’ve been extremely happy with the results,” he said.

Ditto for Joanne Osborne, a state representative and owner of Osborne Jewelry in Goodyear for 30 years. She credits loyal locals for supporting small businesses.

“We are blessed in the West Valley and supporting and shopping local is imperative to keeping all our favorite restaurants, shops and businesses alive,” Osborne said.

“As for how business is overall: depends on the industry,” noted John Safin, president and CEO of the Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“Any business that is dependent on large crowds, bulk sales or ‘splurge’ products are struggling. Bars, gyms and spas haven’t been doing well.”

But, Safin added, “We hear more good than bad.”