LEWISTON — A Bates College professor who sits on the state’s economic forecasting panel said Thursday morning that consumer spending in Androscoggin County is up nearly 10% compared to January — better than Maine as a whole — but that there are 20% fewer small businesses open here than just six months ago.

Julieta Yung Submitted photo

Julieta Yung warned Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce members that some data could be rough due to sample size and that recovery forecasting is an uncertain business.

“Forecasting is difficult, but it really is more challenging now than ever,” said Yung, an assistant professor of economics and one of five members of the governor’s Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission.

Maine’s among a handful of states that have done a “very good” job so far containing COVID-19, she said.

“We’ve seen a steady decline in new cases since mid-May,” said Yung. “Relative to other states, our containment rate has been very good, among the best in the country, actually. (The) five other states are Vermont, Hawaii, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska.”

Nationally, credit and debit card spending measured on tracktherecovery.org showed consumer spending dropped 33% in March and has since recovered to 9% below what it was in January, she said.

Maine similarly dropped but has since recovered to 1.7% below January numbers. Androscoggin County is 9.6% above January, as of July 1.

The mix of industry here has played a large role.

“We differ from the rest of the state in that the third most important sector for us is manufacturing,” Yung said. “Whereas for the state of Maine as a whole, it is the arts, entertainment and recreation industries, along with a combination of services.”

Compared to January, figures showed 19.8% fewer small businesses open in Androscoggin County and 26.2% fewer open statewide as of June 30.

Small business revenue was down 7.7% in Androscoggin County and 16.9% statewide.

The Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission, which released its latest report last week, is assuming Maine will see a slow and protracted recovery, she said, with 8% job loss for the year that “that bounces back in 2021 and 2022 and then levels off at a lower level than we had previously anticipated.”

Chamber President Shanna Cox asked if there were specifics the region should be advocating for in the coming weeks that would help improve the economic outlook.

“I do think support for local businesses is just going to be critical,” Yung said.

Additionally, child care and schools reopening have to be in the mix.

“If there’s no support for (the child care industry), then it’s going to be very hard for people to go back to work,” she said.

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