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The San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce held its annual meeting on Thursday at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center. Above, a six-person panel of San Marcos business leaders moderated by chamber of commerce President and CEO Jason Mock discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and the future. Daily Record photos by Lance Winter


Local business leaders discuss challenges faced amid pandemic, peek toward future
Sunday, March 28, 2021

A panel of local San Marcos business leaders recently spoke on the challenges faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and the future ahead.

The San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the discussion Thursday during its annual meeting held at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center. Chamber President and CEO Jason Mock led a discussion with Greater San Marcos Partnership President Jason Guilietti, Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area CEO Paul Fletcher, CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital - San Marcos President Thomas McKinney, Corridor Title Account Executive Keely Sonlitner, Gumby’s Pizza Owner Forrest Higdon and Schertz Bank & Trust Vice President David Case regarding the economic impact COVID-19 had on businesses across San Marcos and the region.

Past chamber board chair David Case receives an award for his time spent as the board's president presented by current chair Keely Sonlitner.

Fletcher said the nine-county area serviced by Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area saw approximately 58,000 people lose their jobs because of the pandemic. He said the unemployment rate has slowly declined to about 5.3% in the area.

“It’s been a very transitional, evolving process for business,” Fletcher said. “People were laid off. People were having to go back and find other types of employment that might not have come back as quickly like the hospitality industry. I know the hospitality industry is well represented in the San Marcos area, and we’re working hard with business leaders to help find the talent that they need to run their business.”

Workforce Solutions Rural Capital Area CEO Paul Fletcher takes part of a panel discussion at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center.

As a small business owner, Higdon called 2020 a year of innovation.

Above, Forrest Higdon, owner of Gumby's Pizza, discusses the challenges small business owners faced during COVID-19 pandemic at the San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting on Thursday. 

“We pivoted to a lot of different things in terms of offerings that we didn’t traditionally offer from grocery boxes to at-home pizza kits,” Higdon said. “We were doing private, at-home dinners with pizza in your home oven. So, it was just one of those things where we needed to keep our employees busy and we needed to keep them employed.”

Looking back at 2020, Higdon said the Paycheck Protection Program loans helped small businesses stay afloat.

“While we were still open we were operating at a fraction of what we could potentially earn,” Higdon said. “Those funds were a lifesaver.”

Higdon credited the San Marcos community and its culture for helping Gumby’s and other small businesses survive throughout the year.

“When the pandemic hit, people were obviously afraid to go out in public but I know that myself and other restaurant owners in town felt the support,” Higdon said. “While we were hurting, we were greatly supported by the community … We’re grateful.”

One industry that saw a quick recovery amid COVID-19 was the real estate market. Sonlitner said the market in 2021 will be “bigger and better” than last year’s.

“Obviously, COVID hit but we were fortunate that we had a v-shaped recovery and by June we were back,” Sonlitner said. “I know all of our clients that I speak to are very busy and normally in the winter it dies down. It did not die down. It’s still busy. This year is going to be bigger and better than last year.”

She said the real estate market’s big problem is lack of inventory, citing only 44 listings on the area's Multiple Listing Service which is down from the usual 100 available listings.

“Our one issue is we just don’t have enough inventory,” Sonlitner said. “But going into the future this is the area that everyone wants to live in. Everybody is coming to Texas because we’re very business friendly here and San Marcos is right between Austin and San Antonio on that corridor. It’s a quick day trip to so many destinations. We’ve got (Texas State University). We have the river. We’re where people want to be and I don’t see that going anywhere any time soon.”

Looking forward to the future, Giulietti said that people must look forward as San Marcos continues to grow.

“Looking forward means, we’re addressing those concerns, we’re managing our growth while preserving the great, natural beauty and assets that we have,” Giulietti said. “We are going to continue to grow. Now, it might not look the same as it does right now. It could look night and day five years from now. I think that that’s something that we need to be constantly mindful of is that we need to look ahead … Ultimately, folks will find this community as a place they want to raise their family, which will lead to a more vibrant and diverse community.”

Following Thursday’s event, the chamber of commerce will host the 2021 State of the City address on April 29 at 11:30 a.m. inside the Embassy Suites, where Mayor Jane Hughson and San Marcos Consolidated ISD Superintendent Michael Cardona will speak.

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