College towns across the country could face major losses in population and revenue if students don’t return to campus this fall, a new study finds. One of the most at-risk towns? San Marcos.
The city, home to Texas State University, ranked as the ninth most economically vulnerable in the study, which compared 95 college towns with populations of 50,000 or more. College Station, home to Texas A&M University, ranked second.
“[San Marcos] is really dependent on the local student body for spending,” said Mark LoCastro, a spokesperson for SmartAsset, the financial technology company that conducted the study. In 2018, students in San Marcos made up about 40.08% of the population. The study found the city had the fourth-highest student population relative to the city's overall population.
Even with the prospect of some students returning to campus for in-person classes, LoCastro said, local businesses that rely on them may still suffer.
“There's going to be reduced activity from the student body,” he said.
Jason Mock, president of the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s focus right now is on making sure consumers and employees feel safe.
“We want people to be able to be safe when they go to work,” he said. “We also know that we want our consumer to be safe when they go and shop or eat.”
Mock isn’t shy to the idea that some local businesses might not make it out of the pandemic. But he understands the desire to protect long-standing establishments.
He encouraged consumers to show their support by buying merchandise or liking posts on social media.
“Just that little bit of dollars may help keep some of that rent going,” Mock said. “We as consumers in our community can really step up and say, we support you. We're going to be here when you open your doors in the near future. And we want to make sure that you can open your doors in the near future.”
As part of its back-to-school plan, Texas State has significantly increased the number of online classes available in the fall and will limit classroom capacity to 50%. The city and Hays County are both taking strides to help local businesses already struggling because of the pandemic.
On Thursday, the county announced the establishment of an Emergency Cash Assistance Program for local businesses that don’t qualify for federal grants. The program will hand out a total of $600,000, allowing businesses to collect up to $10,000 each.
“The goal here is to go after the very, very small companies — those local downtown businesses that desperately need this to continue to survive in this very, very uncertain environment,” Jason Giulietti, president of the Greater San Marcos Partnership, said during a news conference.
This story has been updated.
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