After the crash: Will Charlotte’s economy come roaring back?

Cautious consumers and massive job losses, followed by gradual recovery, says Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo.

Remember when we could go to our favorite restaurants and sit down for a delicious meal? Yeah, it seems like a lifetime ago.

Even when restaurants are allowed to fully reopen, there’s no guarantee that dine-in customers will go flooding back, Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, said Tuesday.

“It’s not just getting the businesses reopened,” he said. “It’s also restoring confidence for people to go out and engage in the economy that’s going to be very critical.”

  • How will tables be placed?
  • How will servers interact?
  • How will food be prepared?
  • How safe is it gonna be?

Vitner was speaking by video at a meeting of the city of Charlotte’s Recovery Task Force for small business. (The city has established similar task forces to focus on housing and the airport.)

We’ll get a first glimpse at how a post-Covid economy might work (at least in the short term) as governors in nearby states — South Carolina, Georgia and Florida — move more swiftly to ease their Covid-related business restrictions.

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Other Vitner observations:

Cheaper rents? He’s forecasting a temporary glut of high-end apartment units in Charlotte, especially in Uptown, NoDa and SouthEnd. Vacancy rates, he said, may reach 12% for a time.

“I think construction is going to ramp down pretty quickly after that,” Vitner said. “The big problem is we’re not going to have as much net job growth for the next couple of years, so there’s not going to be a lot of absorption.”

  • In other words, fewer people moving here.

Charlotte has the nation’s third-highest proportion of apartments under construction as a percentage of its stock, Vitner said.

Speaking of jobs: Well Fargo is forecasting that North Carolina will lose 426,000 jobs this year, then regain about 60% of those jobs by the end of next year.

Some healthcare jobs may never come back. With the rise of telemedicine and the temporary restrictions on elective surgery, the sector has seen “huge” job losses, Vitner said.

“I do think dentists’ offices will reverse, but I think telemedicine is going to be here to stay,” he said. “The healthcare industry has been incredibly inefficient, particularly from an administrative standpoint, and I think you are going to see automation move in there in a major way.”

The bottom line: When measured against the rate of new Covid-19 infections, North Carolina is the Southern state best prepared to begin reopening its economy, Viter said. Georgia, he said, is the least prepared.

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