The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the rippling effects on local businesses topped this year’s State of the County remarks, delivered virtually on Tuesday by Ed Eilert, Chairman of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners.
Yet, Eilert emphasized his pride in the resilience of Johnson County residents, businesses and community leaders when faced with the uniquely challenging circumstances brought on by the novel coronavirus.
And he highlighted the increasingly hopeful outlook on the horizon as more county residents gain access to vaccines and life gradually returns to a new sense of normality.
Below is a recording of the full video, followed by a few takeaways from the 2021 State of the County Address:
A year of challenges
The year 2020 will be remembered as a year of challenges, Eilert remarked.
For Johnson County, it started with metro-wide stay-at-home orders in March 2020 and continued for months with a pandemic marked by rising COVID-19 case counts and deaths.
Residents have had to adapt to life wearing masks and staying social distanced. They’ve endured economic insecurity as businesses shut down and jobs have been eliminated.
“This past year was far from normal,” Eilert said. “It was a year that tested us and, at times, divided us. We will never forget the heavy toll this deadly virus has taken on our community, across our state and throughout our nation from a threat that was virtually unknown as 2020 began.”
Eilert called for a moment of silence during his remarks to honor those whose lives were lost to COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, Johnson County has totaled 641 deaths from COVID-19.
Economic pain still being felt
The local economy in Johnson County took a hit as a result of the pandemic and has not yet fully recovered, Eilert said.
In April 2020, Johnson County had 10.5% unemployment, with 42,500 jobs lost. The unemployment rate had fallen to 3.3% as of December 2020.
Meanwhile, Johnson County tracked about $30,000 in food donations, and delivered 187,000 meals to aging adults last year.
However, the demand for housing in the county stayed strong, with almost 12,000 homes sold last year. Meanwhile, prices for home sales increased by almost 10% as part of the demand.
County officials said earlier this month that the average price for a new home in Johnson County now tops $555,000.
In the face of continuing economic pain, Eilert noted that a public-private partnership with Kansas City-based real estate firm VanTrust is expected to bring thousands of new jobs to the county in the next 10 years.
Johnson County and cities within the county buckled down in anticipation of budget shortfalls, due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. While sales taxes fell as expected, use taxes increased as residents made more online purchases than before, he said.
Tide is turning among a resilient community
A year into the pandemic, “the tide is turning,” Eilert said.
He stressed that Johnson County is a resilient community that is withstanding the ongoing impacts of the virus. Together, many have worked to slow the spread, keep businesses from going under, keep students learning and keep families from risk of hunger or eviction.
And there’s light at the end of the tunnel, as more and more residents and folks who work in Johnson County have access to COVID-19 vaccines, he said.
“As we enter the final phases of the state’s reopening plan, we know what works: wearing masks, social distancing and vaccinations in protecting ourselves and the safety of others around us,” Eilert said. “While optimistic that each vaccine brings us closer to the COVID-19 finish line, we know that, however, tough decisions are probably still ahead, and challenges remain.
“Throughout the past 13 months, we have tackled many challenges. And while we’re not out of the woods just yet, we know that if we work together, we move forward together to embrace opportunity and to fortify our future,” he said.