Shutdown Central


January 17, 2019

When one contemplates the epicenter of the Trump Shutdown, the snowy community of Ogden, Utah probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind. Neither is Clarksville, West Virginia. Or Huntsville, Alabama.

But as the shutdown enters its 27th day, these communities are among the places where the shutdown’s spiraling effects are being most keenly felt. And they are being felt not just by the thousands of furloughed employees, but also by the small business owners who depend on the federal workforce for much of their livelihood. Also affected are state government coffers, expecting to take quite a significant hit in tax collections because folks aren’t spending money like they do during normal times.

Ogden, a town of 87,000, has more federal employees per capita than any other community in the western United States. The IRS has a large facility there; together with the U.S. Forest Service, the two agencies employ some 5,000 federal workers, who normally pack downtown Ogden’s many eateries during the workday lunch rush.

Now, however, the “lunch rush” has been reduced to 20-30 minutes and restaurants are laying off workers or sending them home early. Owner Anna Davidson told CBS News that business at her restaurant is down by half. She already has slashed her employees’ hours and is now covering payroll with her personal savings – money she does not expect to recoup.

“It’s a loss, it’s gone,” she said. “This trickles out and affects everything.”

In Clarksville, the federal government has a deep imprint, thanks in part to the legacy of former U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), who was well-known for his efforts to convince his colleagues to fund projects in his home state. Clarksville alone hosts a massive FBI facility, and the Interstate 79 corridor between Clarksburg and Morgantown has attracted NASA, the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with the 2,500 employees at the FBI facility.

Now the shutdown has affected private contractors and support staff, local industries that have flourished with the growing federal presence. Too, restaurants and gas stations in the area are expecting reduced sales.

“As each day goes by, I’m sure you’re going to worry some more,” said Jim Estop, president and chief executive of the High Technology Foundation, which lobbies for federal agencies to relocate to West Virginia.

It’s a similar story in Huntsville, where 2,200 workers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center have been furloughed.

“Restaurant workers are seeing less hours, people that work at retail stories are seeing hours cut which is impacting their ability to be able to pay their rent and their mortgages and sometimes even their abilities to even provide food for their family,” said Lineise Arnold, Executive Director of the North Alabama Coalition for the Homeless.

Many fear the impact of the Trump Shutdown will soon be felt by local governments, and the governments’ abilities to provide the services that residents need. That’s true for school boards. Free or reduced price school meals receive funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Although USDA has said school meals funding will stretch through March, some school systems are starting to skimp on meals in fear that the shutdown may be very prolonged.

Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell anticipates a big drop in tax revenue and says he’s prepared to pare city services if he has to. He says the impact could be in the “millions of dollars” and that it would be “devastating for a community our size.”

The shutdown’s ill effects are hardly restricted to towns such as Ogden, Clarksville, and Huntsville in these three states however. First, there’s the matter that Utah and West Virginia have many more federal employees per capita than most states, and Alabama is not far behind (combined, the three states have 21,800 furloughed employees).

There is also the matter of how others are affected. Would-be homeowners who can’t get the Federal Housing Administration to process their loans. Farmers who ahead of planting season can’t get help from the Farm Service Agency to buy seeding and equipment. Small business owners who are left hanging while the Small Business Administration is unable to process a staggering $200 million in loans a day.

Indeed, the Trump Shutdown’s tentacles stretch far and wide. In Utah, for example (and elsewhere), microbreweries are affected. Why? Because there are no federal workers to approve labelling for new products, which must include information such as alcohol content.

Jon Lee is Co-COO and Brewmaster for Utah’s Wasatch and Squatters Breweries.

“We’re backed up on label approval right now with eight to nine different new beers we’re going to have to wait to release until this whole thing is out and resolved and done,” he told Salt Lake City’s KSL-TV.

And – putting aside the fact that a lot of people affected by the shutdown could probably use a drink about now – that also has its impacts.

“If this goes on too far, there’s various agricultural subsidies and programs that are run,” he said. “Beer is made up largely mostly of malted barley, malted wheat.”

For a comprehensive look at the Trump Shutdown’s impact, click here. For more resources, check out our Trump Shutdown resource page. And continue to visit Voices for Human Needs as we bring you the latest news on the shutdown.