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Monday, June 17, 2024

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The Wrap: Tourism, Worker Shortage, Covid, Transient Rentals and Weed

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May 17-23: 

’20 Better Than Expected 

Tourism Spending Down 21% in ’20 

A Cape May County Chamber of Commerce virtual event ran through the economic numbers from 2020. The county sawtourism spending fall just over 21% for one of  the state’s best records. It was a case of celebrating the loss of almost $1.5 billion because it could have been worse.  

Diane Wieland, tourism director, Cape May County, said the loss in 2020 wiped out the gains since 2013, but a strong July and August, along with a record-setting September and October, saved the county from what otherwise might have been an even greater disaster.  

Jeff Vasser, executive director, state Division of Travel and Tourism, predicted that to recover to 2019 levels may take until 2023. 

’21 Hampered by Worker Shortage 

Help Wanted 

The county is expecting a major rebound in 2021. The Covid year just past proved the enduring attractiveness of all the county has to offer. From mid-summer on, they came. The question this year is can county businesses hire the staff to handle the demand?  

The crisis with the J-1 Visa program persists, reducing the large influx of 2,500 foreign workers who filled local, seasonal jobs. The pandemic continues to erode the recovery, with restrictions limiting child care and extended unemployment benefits keeping some workers sidelined. 

Businesses raised base wages, as well as adding sign-up and retention incentives. One Ocean City restaurant turned to robot workers. Even municipalities are finding it hard to fill seasonal jobs needed for basic services with the expanded summer population.  

Stockton University Economist Oliver Cooke suggested the pool of county seasonal workers may have been eroded during 2020 by other employment opportunities where hiring was strong, such as support for e-commerce sites. 

Improving Covid Numbers, Slowing Vaccinations Continue 

Active Covid Cases at 6-Month Lows 

The county’s releases of heath metrics May 21 showed 78 active Covid cases, the first time that number was below 100 in six months. The  grim report this week wasan additional three Covid fatalities, bringing the  county’s  pandemic-related deaths to 208.  

Positive trends elsewhere led to the end of the state’s travel advisory. Unwilling to accept the full import of changes in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, New Jersey maintained its indoor mask mandate.  

Free Wine, Anyone? 

As of May 23, the state Covid dashboard shows 46,002 fully vaccinated adults in Cape May County. In the last week, that number increased by 1,646 individuals, or an average of 235 per day. This is the second week in which the pace of gaining fully vaccinated individuals has fallen short of what it was in April and early May.  

It is a national phenomenon, and the county is doing better than most. Yet, the state’s goal of fully vaccinating 70% of the adult population by June 30 is proving to be more challenging with time. Infection numbers are down, restrictions eased, and the warm weather is back, as an ally against the virus.  

State officials introduced controversial incentives to encourage people to get the shot, which can potentially “earn” the individual a state park “vax” pass, good anywhere in New Jersey.  

The Garden State Wine Growers Association teamed with the state to offer a free glass of wine at participating wineries. The newly vaccinated can even win a dinner with the governor and first lady.  

Other states and cities went well beyond New Jersey with enticements. Maryland and Ohio have lotteries – the top prize in Ohio is $1 million. West Virginia is offering a $100 savings bond to young people who get vaccinated. Maine is giving fishing and hunting licenses and Memphis has a new car raffle.  

The controversy comes from those who see moral hazard – a reward for vaccine skepticism or procrastination – that could encourage individuals to hold out if boosters are needed. 

Municipal Attention Turns to Airbnb 

The Covid year saw an explosion in the already rapidly growing use of online short-term transient space rentals. Now, municipalities worry about safety and liability issues, while they also see a new potential area of revenue.  

Cape May introduced an ordinance that would extend a 3% municipal occupancy tax to transient rental space, beginning in 2022. Stone Harbor added consideration of an occupancy tax to a list of studies its governing body commissioned on budget and revenue issues.  

Middle Township began a discussion of short-term rentals and recommendations made in its recently adopted Master Plan Reexamination Report. 

Weed Laws Sweep County 

At least for now, the county is proving to be a hostile environment for the newly legal cannabis industry. Many of the county’s municipalities passed laws outlawing the smoking or ingesting of cannabis products in public places.  

Most also introduced ordinances prohibiting emerging cannabis businesses from setting up shop. This week added two more towns to that list, with ordinances introduced in Cape May and Wildwood.  

And… 

Middle Township adopted an ordinance setting up strict shopping cart containment regulations for businesses with 15 or more carts.  

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted another above-average season for named storms. The prediction is for 13 to 20 named storms and three to five major hurricanes category 3 or above. NOAA does not expect 2021 to equal the record number of named storms experienced in 2020.   

Wind farms continue to spark controversy in the county. Public support for the fight against climate change requires full transparency regarding the potential impact of projects. 

State public schools will be required to provide full-day, in-person instruction beginning in fall.  

A website is available for those who lost that important vaccination card. 

Spout Off of the Week 

Wildwood –Woo Hoo, no more masks! Finally! They were totally uncomfortable! Was out this morning and finally enjoyed breathing!

Spout Off

Middle Township – Beach replenishment kills large amounts of bottom dwelling marine life such as clams and worms that other marine life depend on as food. It also alters the bottom structure that fish use to hunt prey…

Read More

Wildwood Crest – I can’t stand summer in the Wildwoods. See ya in the fall!

Read More

Cape May – If Biden is re-elected (God forbid) it would only be a matter of time when, not if, Harris would be president. Let that sink in for a while.

Read More

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