NORTH METRO ATLANTA, Ga. — Not since the Great Recession of 2008 has the economy been jolted by the likes of something as sweeping as the COVID-19 pandemic.
With economic indicators all moving up through February, the coronavirus infected nearly every business sector by late March, shuddering restaurants and shackling the workforce to the safety of their homes.
Here is a rundown of some of the major business events as they unfolded in the area.
Hotels take a hit
Alpharetta welcomed its 28th hotel in February when InterContinental Hotels Group celebrated the grand opening of its first EVEN Hotel in Georgia. The Avalon area property features 132 guest rooms, including six suites and eight accessible rooms.
The opening followed just three months after the opening of the Home2 Suites by Hilton Alpharetta on Morris Road. The 158-suite hotel was developed for convenient access to Alpharetta attractions such as the shops and restaurants of Avalon.
With the opening of both hotels, Alpharetta boasted 3,569 rooms in its portfolio.
But, by the end of spring, hotel occupancy rates plummeted to below 40 percent, and they hadn’t recovered much by the end of the year.
Restaurants, retail adjust
With social distancing orders in place by early spring, traditional gathering operations like bowling alleys and movie theaters were forced by state mandate to close. Eating establishments were also affected. Some closed permanently, while others cut staff and adopted strict sanitation protocols with take-out service.
Ryan Pernice, the owner of Table & Main and Osteria Mattone in Roswell, and Coalition Food and Beverage in Alpharetta, said they had to change their entire business model after seeing a huge drop in business.
“It was pretty much as if someone had flipped a switch about two weeks ago,” he said. “All of a sudden, we reached the tipping point with the news and the sound and fury surrounding this, and revenue just fell off a cliff... It just didn’t make sense to stay open anymore.”
Business groups step up
Local chambers of commerce went into overdrive to assist members with information about resources to help them survive the economic slowdown. Chambers held online workshops on expanded access to loans through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to businesses.
The Greater North Fulton Chamber mounted initiatives in the early stages of the pandemic, teaming with the Forsyth County Chamber to present a series of virtual job fairs throughout May and June.
Meanwhile, the business community in Milton solidified its standing through formation of the Milton Business Council. The group is the first city-specific entity to operate under the banner of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.
And in August, Roswell Inc and the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce launched a partnership to support Hispanic business owners in Roswell and develop mutual business relationships between Hispanic and non-Hispanic business owners in the city. The partnership will promote webinars, special educational programs and other opportunities to encourage, support and grow Hispanic businesses in Roswell.
Mortgage condition in April
Many lenders were quoting rates around 3.5 percent for a 30-year fixed home loan as the pandemic took hold in April. By December, the rate had fallen to 2.96 percent, a record low, according to Bankrate’s weekly survey of large lenders.
Mortgage qualification guidelines were also squeezed. Debt to asset ratios have been capped at 45 percent and credit score requirements have jumped from 580 to 640, depending on the lender.
An April 9 report from the Mortgage Bankers Association showed the Mortgage Credit Availability Index had dropped 16.1 percent in March, putting credit supply at its lowest level since June 2015.
Other highlights of the year
- Those looking for a job still found support during the coronavirus pandemic as the popular Roswell United Methodist Church Networking program shifted to online sessions. The program regularly sees 200-300 attendees seeking job hunting advice, companionship and leads. Organizers and volunteers are still at it at year’s end at RUMCjobnetworking.com.
- As business slowed to a crawl in April, teleconferencing services saw a spike in interest. Two major providers in the trade — Zoom and PGi — are both based in Alpharetta and reported large increases in use of their services.
- Officials in February celebrated the groundbreaking of the Southern Post on the corner of Alpharetta Street and Norcross Street in Roswell. The property, which had sat idle since the city acquired it in 2016, will be developed by commercial real estate firm S.J. Collins Enterprises, which plans to incorporate apartments, town homes, restaurants and shops on the 4.28-acre property.
- In March, Toyota Financial Services announced it will open a new office in Alpharetta to become the company’s East Dealer Service Center. The investment of more than $8 million is expected to bring 150 new jobs to the area, state officials said. The finance and insurance brand for Toyota in the United States will open at 11625 Rainwater Drive.
- In October, Cushman and Wakefield, a large real estate services firm, announced the sale of Parsons Meadow Professional Park, a 32,069 square foot medical office building in Johns Creek, for $5.9 million. Healthcare work plays a large role in the Johns Creek economy with more than 200 businesses and more than 3,500 residents in the healthcare workforce.