Business

Wynwood businesses lost revenue, laid off employees during Zika outbreak, study finds

A Miami-Dade County mosquito control worker sprays around a home in the Wynwood area of Miami on Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. The CDC has issued a new advisory that says pregnant women should not travel a Zika-stricken part of Miami, and pregnant women who live there should take steps to prevent mosquito bites and sexual spread of the virus.
A Miami-Dade County mosquito control worker sprays around a home in the Wynwood area of Miami on Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. The CDC has issued a new advisory that says pregnant women should not travel a Zika-stricken part of Miami, and pregnant women who live there should take steps to prevent mosquito bites and sexual spread of the virus. AP

The spread of the Zika virus across Miami last summer severely infected earnings at Wynwood businesses, some of which saw revenue and profit dip by as much as 40 percent, according to a new study by Florida International University’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work.

Conducted from Aug. 15 to Oct. 19 last year, the study surveyed 44 business, including restaurants, bars, retail stores, art galleries and others, during the height of the Zika scare. A one-square-mile area of Wynwood was designated a Zika zone in August by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The advisory was lifted Sept. 19.

91 percentOf Wynwood businesses studied experienced loss of revenue and profits during the Zika outbreak last summer

Despite promotional visits by Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Gov. Rick Scott and giveaways like free parking, business plummeted. Some outdoor businesses closed completely, both out of fear that their customers and employees would contract the mosquito-borne illness that causes birth defects.

The FIU survey by Timothy F. Page, an associate professor at the Stempel College, is the first of its kind to quantify anecdotal reports of business impacts caused by Zika in Wynwood. Surveyors conducted in-person and telephone interviews, analyzing earnings and customer losses, changes to prices and inventories, impressions on local government reaction and media coverage, as well as future expectations.

Governor lifts Zika zone in Wynwood; CDC says ‘don’t let down guard.’

According to the report, 91 percent of businesses studied experienced loss of revenue and profits during the Zika scare compared to the same time in 2015. The majority, 53 percent, saw losses of 21 to 30 percent. About 13 percent of businesses experienced declines as high as 31 to 40 percent.

Of the businesses surveyed, 84 percent lost customers due to concern around the Zika virus. Two businesses laid off employees as a direct result of the Zika outbreak.

Of the businesses surveyed, 84 percent lost customers due to concern around the Zika virus. About 36 percent of businesses decreased their prices to adjust for demand and 27 percent reduced their inventories. Two businesses laid off employees as a direct result of the Zika outbreak.

But despite the downturn, 98 percent of Wynwood businesses were confident customer volume would increase in the next three months.

During the Zika outbreak, businesses tried to stay positive. Zak the Baker built a light-hearted shrine to ward off Zika. Eli Mitrani, a Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID) board member, told the Herald in August that he hoped the media coverage of Zika would eventually lead to international exposure for the arts neighborhood — sans Zika.

We saw the return of people coming to visit our street art, patronize our businesses and we had the most successful art week season in December to date, which was just three months after the [Zika] episode.

Albert Garcia, Wynwood Business Improvement District vice chair

And things did improve, said the BID’s vice chair Albert Garcia in an interview Tuesday.

“We saw the return of people coming to visit our street art, patronize our businesses and we had the most successful art week season in December to date, which was just three months after the [Zika] episode,” Garcia said.

Garcia added that the results of the study seem accurate with the “uncertainty and panic” that ensued in Wynwood after the area was determined an active Zika transmission zone.

After all of the news of Zika cases in the neighborhood near his Wynood business slowed down his walk-in business, Zak the Baker, decided to make a new creation — a shrine to Zika. The light-hearted shrine was made to make people smile and not tak

Across the board, all 44 businesses surveyed by FIU said they felt state and local government provided little information to businesses about what to expect or what to do in case of an outbreak, and 91 percent said government was “very unresponsive” to the concerns of local businesses. Nearly all, or 98 percent, of Wynwood businesses reported they felt the media’s coverage of the outbreak was too sensational.

“This is a lesson for government both local and state that as much as they need to have a health plan, they need to have an economic recovery plan ready to go because the next community could be devastated if the right resources aren’t made accessible immediately,” Garcia said. “Zika is not a Miami thing, it’s not a Florida thing; it’s a global thing. Wynwood was just the unfortunate community to bear it first.”

Since, the BID has developed a Zika emergency plan and has been actively working with local government to ensure Zika preparedness.

Zika is not a Miami thing, it’s not a Florida thing; it’s a global thing. Wynwood was just the unfortunate community to bear it first.

Albert Garcia, Wynwood Business Improvement District vice chair

The report concluded that more in depth, detailed surveys of businesses should be conducted in future outbreak areas to better assess how government response can reduce economic impact.

“This planning should include resource allocation projections and program evaluation, wherein the government prepares for disease outbreaks before they occur by building an evidence base to support planning and decision making,” the report said.

While the Wynwood outbreak, and the Miami Beach outbreak that followed, were contained, the mosquito that transmits it, Aedes aegypti, is still found across the Southern United States — particularly in the summer. With Zika vaccine trials still in progress, health officials worry Zika may return to South Florida.

“As rainy season returns to South Florida, so does the need for public health and medical authorities to be strategic and forward thinking in preventing and responding to outbreaks,” said report author Page, via a press relase. “Zika is imminent, and the time for planning and collaboration with local businesses is right now.”

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

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