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COVID-19

Why much of Nebraska’s economy remains strong despite the pandemic

Kai Ryssdal and Andie Corban Jan 19, 2021
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Rural Nebraska is benefiting from a resilient farm economy and has avoided the shutdowns suffered by many metropolitan areas. Scott Olson/Getty Images
COVID-19

Why much of Nebraska’s economy remains strong despite the pandemic

Kai Ryssdal and Andie Corban Jan 19, 2021
Heard on:
Rural Nebraska is benefiting from a resilient farm economy and has avoided the shutdowns suffered by many metropolitan areas. Scott Olson/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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The state of Nebraska has one of the lowest jobless rates in the country. At 3.1%, the proportion of people unemployed in Nebraska is less than half of the national average.

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal talked with Patrick Gerhart, president of the Bank of Newman Grove, to see how his town’s economy has been doing through the pandemic. Around 700 people live in Newman Grove, many of whom have been coming to the bank for generations. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: Let me start the way I always do when I speak with small-business people in this economy: How is business these past couple of months?

Patrick Gerhart: Business in our area, which is rural northeastern Nebraska, to be honest, has actually been fairly well, due to the farm economy. [An] uptick in grain prices, the government help last year, has really kind of stabilized a lot of uncertainty that was going on in 2020 in this area. We just need kind of an uptick in cattle prices, and I think everybody might be a little bit happy. So I mean, as a whole, we’re doing OK.

Ryssdal: Which is good news to hear because you don’t hear a lot of that in this economy lately. I wonder, how do you suppose Newman Grove and the surrounding area has been able to do that? Is it just the fact that you’re ag-based, and ag is doing well?

Gerhart: Part of it is ag-based, of course. But you know, that can kind of come and go. Another thing is that we are far enough away from major metropolitan areas where, you know, when the shutdowns and the downturns happened at the beginning of COVID, we, of course, complied, but we were not nearly as hit as, you know, some of those major areas. One of the benefits of being kind of a rural economy, it’s almost kind of trickle-down in a way. Like when we get hit, we’re almost kind of prepared for it, if that makes sense.

Ryssdal: No, it totally does. Did you have in March and April, when the first CARES Act came, did you have farmers and clients and customers coming to you asking for [Paycheck Protection Program] loans? Did you wind up doing a lot of that work?

Gerhart: Yes, right away. We didn’t do a whole lot. We mainly stuck to our customers and went with the people that we know, and we know their credit history, we know their background. We kind of kept it internal. We didn’t go out seeking PPP loans, like some institutions did. That’s kind of [where] our comfort level was.

Ryssdal: All right, this I should know the answer to, having done research, but I don’t. Where physically in Newman Grove are you? Are you like smack in the middle of town, as it were?

Gerhart: Yeah. No, our bank is right on Main Street. It’s about four blocks long. And yeah, we’re on kind of the western end of it.

Ryssdal: All right, so when you go out the front door of the bank and look right and left, what does it look like? Are there small businesses open and thriving? Are things closed? What’s the deal?

Gerhart: You know, surprisingly, we haven’t lost anybody. In fact, we’ve actually had a little boutique pop up in the middle of this whole thing. She was planning on doing it from the get-go before COVID happened, and she’s open. I think she’s done fairly well. So I mean, we haven’t lost anybody. Everybody, I think, is doing OK. In fact, I think a couple of our businesses have actually seen a little bit of a boom in regards to it, just based on the fact that people aren’t leaving Newman Grove to go get things as much as they once were before COVID. They’re buying more, at least it seems like, in our area, and you know, everybody’s doing OK for the most part.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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