The Little League World Series has been cancelled and it could mean nearly $40 million in economic loss to the region – an impossible sum to recoup, experts fear.
“We’re not going to replace that,” said Jason Fink, president and CEO of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce. “This is a one-time event that gets so much exposure for a small area that really needs it.”
In addition to the Little League World Series, the city’s Grand Slam Parade and Williamsport Welcomes the World have also been cancelled, Fink said. Unrelated to the series, the annual Drum and Bugle Corps, which Williamsport has hosted directly after the Series for the past two years, will also be cancelled.
It’s a financial blow to the city that will be felt for years to come, Fink said. The move was disappointing to local leaders, but not surprising. An international event that includes countries like Italy, China, Japan and Australia, it was unlikely that European travel would ever be a possibility this early.
An economic study from four years ago, showed that the two weeks of Little League brings in roughly $35 million to $40 million to the region – the majority through the hotel and restaurant industry, Fink said.
“The only hope that I have is that there is going to be that pent up demand that maybe more people will come next year,” Fink said.
The loss is a major blow, but Fink said it is one the region may have been able to handle if it weren’t also dealing with the drastic economic plunge already brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide shutdown.
“It’s one of the things where if you look at the whole picture, this is another major shot,” Fink said. “It sucks right now, and I hate to say it but it does suck.”
Commissioner Scott Metzger said that while he agrees with the decision to cancel the series, it comes as a dissapointment, not only for the county, but also the social engagement and positive impact the event brings to the community.
“It’s kind of like having Disney World in your backyard for a short time,” Metzger said.
Many businesses bring in 60% to 70% of their revenue during the series and he fears some of them may need to close their doors for good.
“It’s devastating to them,” Metzger said. “When you think about $35 to $40 million pumped into an economy on a two-week window, that’s huge.”
Losing businesses would also mean an impact on the county’s remaining tax base, and raising taxes on the businesses that are left is not an option, he said.
“We need to be creative and look for local options to get people on their feet so they don’t have to close their doors,” Metzger said.
The City of Williamsport will also work to support local businesses, but nothing will be able to fully replace the amount lost, said Mayor Derek Slaughter, who recently put together a city advisory board that is tackling many issues related to COVID-19.
“It’s gonna be a moving target,” Slaughter said. “We have to do the best we can as we are right smack in the middle of it right now.”
The city is finalizing an application process for businesses to apply for $609,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds and $750,000 in Enterprise Zone funding, which only can be sent out as a loan, he said. The purpose of the funds is to fill in the gaps for businesses who have been unable to get funding through other local or state and federal sources.
Distributing the funds will be a “measured” process, Slaughter added, as there are limited revenue options available.
Applying for more state and federal funding will be difficult, Slaughter said, as cities across the country are struggling with the same economic woes.
“I was just on a Zoom meeting with mayors all over the country and we are all in the same position trying to figure out the economic impact,” Slaughter said.
But there is still hope for the region, Fink said, adding that the benefit to a small city with a rowling sprawl of countryside means that when Americans are ready to travel again they will be more likely to go to less populated areas.
The chamber is working with the state, which already is researching updated tourism trends to determine how it will adapt to the pandemic.
“They are going to look for outdoor recreation,” Fink said. “They will be on our doorstep soon.”