Ferry reservations are full. There’s not a short-term rental to be had. The roads have slowed to a crawl in the typical spots (the Triangle and Five Corners, among them). And the sidewalks are crowded. Wow, there are a lot of people here, and the Fourth of July is still 10 days away. As we’ve said before, we hope you packed your patience along with the sunscreen, because businesses all across the Island are understaffed.
It has the look and feel of a great summer for the Island economy — and not a moment too soon.
We knew the pandemic’s effects of the economy were bad. We lived it and breathed it. The numbers in a story written by Lucas Thors about the Martha’s Vineyard Economic Recovery Initiative are staggering. Based on research conducted by Oxford Economics, the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism estimated Vineyard tourism suffered a 40 percent loss in business for 2020. The Island lost at least $76.5 million in direct visitor spending, an additional $112 million in indirect spending, and a minimum of $4.3 million in local tax revenue.
Given the seasonal nature of the Island’s economy and the period when the pandemic hit its peak nationwide, it’s a wonder that we didn’t lose more of our traditional businesses on the Vineyard, and that speaks to the fortitude of those business owners, the generosity of Islanders, and the much-needed assistance of the federal government through various relief programs.
The Martha’s Vineyard Economic Recovery Initiative is a collaborative effort between the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce and Dukes County, brought together by the Martha’s Vineyard Nonprofit Collaborative to recoup some of what was lost. They’ve hired a grant writer, Patricia Mitrokostas, to go after some of the funds that are available to help with the recovery.
“We need our business sector to be robust. As long as people are spending money on Martha’s Vineyard, it works for Martha’s Vineyard. By partnering with the county, which is a regional entity, we can support businesses across the Island without prejudice, and we are eager to do so,” Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, said.
In a separate initiative, the county recently announced that it has applied for $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. Once the county applies for the funds, it will get about $1.5 million, and the additional money will be distributed next year.
The county is setting up a steering committee to consider how the money will be distributed, and they’ve vowed to make the process open and transparent — something we hope they will follow through with.
Beyond the immediate summer at hand, what happened during the pandemic should give us pause. It’s time to start to think about the future of the Island’s economy. How can we move it forward to become more year-round, less reliant on a short burst of tourism? We have already seen this with more robust shoulder seasons, but how do we expand on that?
In forming the Martha’s Vineyard Economic Recovery Initiative, Gerard Jones, co-creator of the initiative, put it well: “The need for us to come together and act as one Island has always been important, but never more important than during COVID. We realize that in the absence of an organization that got people together right away when COVID hit, other than on health issues and the like, there just wasn’t anything going on, and businesses were left largely to fend for themselves.”
There’s a theme here. We know how much some cling to the idea of six separate towns on the Island, but in these critical times, we’re better when we work together as one Island. The economic vitality of the Vineyard’s future is something that needs all of us rowing in the same direction.