PITTSBURG, Kan. — Last year presented unforeseen economic challenges for businesses as COVID-19 unexpectedly ravaged the business community in early 2020.  

Due to stay-at-home orders, businesses across the country closed their doors or had to lay off employees causing unemployment to spike and the economy to tank. Since the start of the new year, communities, like Pittsburg, have been holding their breath as the they waited to see what the economic damage of 2020 truly was.  

Well, on Tuesday the Pittsburg City Commission and the citizens of Pittsburg got a first look at the economic aftermath of last year as Director of Economic Development Blake Benson and Pittsburg State University Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Naccarato presented the quarterly economic report to the city commission.  

Benson and Naccarato presented a full scope view of Pittsburg’s current economic situation from unemployment numbers to projects and outreach they did during last year.  

“We are able to do things communities of this size are normally not able to do,” Benson said.  

Benson reported that in March of 2020 the city’s unemployment rate was at a 20-year low of 3.3 percent before spiking to 9 percent in April as COVID-19 hit. Benson, however, also highlighted that as of December the city’s unemployment rate was back to down to 3.5 percent.  

Benson said Pittsburg’s numbers are at “about half” of the national rates which were 14.7 percent in April and have only fallen to about 6.7 percent as of December. 

“It speaks well of our local economy,” Benson said.  

Additionally, Benson reported that the local labor force added about 700 jobs in 2020.  

“That’s a big jump for a community of our size,” he said. “So hopefully that trend is sustained.”  

Benson also said that according to the results of an employer sentiment survey that was conducted in the fall of 2020, two-thirds of Pittsburg businesses are planning on hiring new employees in 2021, while the other third said they will probably keep their staff at current levels.  

“None replied that they had concrete plans to reduce staff in 2021,” he said.  

Benson said he is proud of where the Pittsburg economy is at considering what challenges 2020 brought, highlighting that some of the stability could be attributed to the Paycheck Protection Program, which Benson said covered 2,000 jobs in Pittsburg and provided nearly $20 million in aid last year.  

“That was a lot of money in our community,” Benson said, “that really helped stave off probably some local layoffs, and also helped keep business spending up where it needed to be.”  

In addition to explaining numbers, Benson and Naccarato highlighted some of the projects they were able to take on last year and the successes of the Small Business Development Center at Pittsburg State University.  

Naccarato reported that the center had 80 unique clients last year and spent 450-plus hours working with small businesses in Pittsburg.  

Additionally, Naccarato discussed the progress of Block22, which added the Pitsco Idea Shop in fall of last year.  

“We were really pleased this year to finally get to a place where we could finally launch the Idea Shop,” he said. “This of course is the last piece of Block 22 development.”  

Naccarato also discussed the podcast Around the Block—the podcast for Block22—which he launched last year to “help tell the story of Pittsburg.”  

“I hope that it will be something that number one makes the citizens of this community proud of this place,” he said. “Number two, it will be communication to particularly our alumni at the university who might need some more incentive to come back home.”  

Benson and Naccarato are proud of where Pittsburg’s economy is at and are excited about what 2021 will bring including the opening of the new Dairy Queen—scheduled to begin construction next week— and potentially a new business opening at 525 S. Broadway near Braums.  

“I do believe we are a model for other communities of our size,” Naccarato said.