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BYU-Idaho students track economic impact of COVID-19

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REXBURG — Data showing the effects of COVID-19 on eastern Idaho’s economy is publicly available.

The Research and Business Development Center in Rexburg, a nonprofit organization that provides undergraduate students with work experience to prepare them for careers and life, has student research teams compiling data to track the pandemic’s economic impact.

The information is updated every Monday and published online in the Eastern Idaho COVID-19 Economic Report.

“We had some previous clients and other connections throughout the community that (were) interested in getting focused, local economic impact-type information about COVID-19 and what it’s doing to the economy,” Director of Business Research Will Jenson said. “We listened to those individuals as they expressed their need for information.”

The report shows data students gathered from Bonneville, Madison and Jefferson counties. It shares information on unemployment, city data, energy usage, housing/construction, industry status and consumer confidence.

Three teams of about six BYU-Idaho students work on the report. One group conducts household surveys, the other team does industry surveys and the third group focuses on everything else.

“There’s tons of different parts to it,” BYU-Idaho senior Austin Isaac said. “It’s a really cool report.”

April Lake, also a senior at the school, has been in charge of reaching out to small businesses and hotels to find out how COVID-19 has affected them. She guesses she’s put about 80 hours into this project.

The findings that were published Monday reveal the percentage of guests eastern Idaho hotels have lost since the pandemic started. Rigby came in at 45 percent, Idaho Falls at 58 percent and Rexburg at 91 percent.

“It’s been really interesting to hear some of their stories and some of the amazing things that have happened to them, and some of the difficult things,” she said.

Isaac has also been working on industry analysis and has made several phone calls to business owners. He said although the virus has taken a toll on businesses, many of them are already seeing an increase in their sales again.

RELATED | How COVID-19 is putting a dent in the eastern Idaho economy (from March)

According to Monday’s report, not only did unemployment claims drop in eastern Idaho, but statewide unemployment claims dropped for the first time since the pandemic began.

“Hopefully, store owners or small business owners will be able to go on and look at it, and they can see the different results that we’ve gathered from all these different businesses and industries,” Isaac said. “Hopefully, it’ll be helpful to them.”

Along with compiling data from organizations, students have posted polls on Facebook for eastern Idaho residents to participate in. The goal is to see how the virus is impacting households and individuals.

“When we do these polls, we’re getting, in some cases, 500 and 600 people that respond in just a few hours,” Jenson said. “With the quantity of responses we’ve been getting — and the consistency is what we’re looking for between responses — (it) is pretty interesting to us as we do this research.”

The most recent report revealed that those in Idaho Falls and Rigby believe the economy will improve in the next 12 months, while Rexburg residents think the economy will decline a lot.

They also found Rigby residents feel very comfortable going to childcare establishments. People in Idaho Falls feel uncomfortable, and Rexburg residents feel very uncomfortable.

“I really hope that they all take the time to go on and look at the information that we have found out and continue to look and see what has happened, where we are now and hopefully in the future, (see) that they’ve triumphed over all of this and they’ve come back together and they’re closer as a community,” Lake said.

Jenson said in July they will re-evaluate and decide if they will continue putting together the report.

The latest report can be found here.

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