ANAHEIM, Calif. – Orange County and Southern California’s economy would take a massive $5 billion hit if Disneyland remains closed through next year, economists said.
Anil Puri, the director of the Woods Center for Economic Analysis and Forecasting at California State University, Fullerton, estimates that if Disneyland remains closed until March 2021 – a full year – Orange County will lose 33,200 jobs and the Southern California region 46,100 jobs. The job losses are a combination of Disneyland employees and related jobs that rely on Disneyland and its visitors.
The extended closure would also result in an output loss of $3.4 billion in Orange County and $5 billion in the Southern California region, Puri said during the Orange County Business Council’s annual Economic Forecast conference on Thursday.
“The sooner that Disneyland [re]opens, the better it is for a lot of people who rely [on them] not only for their work but also to visit Disneyland,” Puri said. “It has huge psychological impacts on the county’s economy.”
Puri added that from March to September, the closure of Disneyland has led to an estimated job loss of 20,200 workers in Orange County and 28,000 in Southern California. Additionally, during that same time frame, the Southern California region is estimated to have lost $3 billion in economic impact.
The Cal State Fullerton report came two days after state health officials released reopening guidelines for Disneyland and the rest of the theme park industry in the state.
The economic report was prepared before the state announced the reopening guidelines, but it highlights the importance of Disneyland’s role in Orange County and the Southern California region’s economy.
State health officials said Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood, and other large theme parks can only reopen if its home county is in the yellow tier, the state’s least restrictive tier level.
The state has a four-tier color-coded system – purple, red, orange, and yellow – that monitors a county’s coronavirus risk level and assesses what type of businesses can and can’t open with modifications.
Currently, Orange County, the home of Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and Knott’s Berry Farm, is in the red tier, the state’s second most restrictive tier.
For Disneyland and its sister theme park to reopen, it would take Orange County at least eight weeks to be in the yellow tier. But the likelihood of that is slim, according to local health experts.
Earlier this week, Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau said it would be hard for Orange County to achieve the yellow tier.
“It depends on when the vaccine will come as well as how many doses [are] available for our populations as well as how many of our residents will readily accept the vaccine – those are the three factors that will determine how soon we can get to the yellow tier,” Chau said.
“Personally, I think that we can look forward to a yellow tier by next summer, hopefully. Hopefully,” Chau added.
With the coronavirus pandemic continuing into its eighth month and Disneyland facing an extended closure, expect the local and regional economy to go down, Puri, the economist, said.
Prior to the coronavirus, Puri and other Cal State Fullerton economists, in a Disney commissioned study last year, found that Disneyland Resort, which includes two theme parks, three hotels, and an outdoor shopping center, had an $8.5 billion economic impact on Southern California’s economy.
Though Disneyland employs more than 31,000 cast members, another 47,000 jobs rely on the resort, according to the economic impact study. These workers work in non-Disney hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, retail stores, vendors, or other third-party businesses that typically rely on the tens of millions of visitors that Disneyland annually attracts.
The closure of Disneyland has already had a negative impact on the local economy. Disney, last month, announced the layoff of 28,000 employees across the board. The city estimates a $100 million deficit and has a 15% unemployment rate due to many of the city’s hotels having closed or limited operations. Several businesses near Disneyland fear closing permanently.
The Cal State Fullerton report said Disneyland’s closure has already cost the region $3 billion. The report expects a third of Disney’s announced job cuts to be at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.
“Though a majority of these jobs may be for part-time workers, the impact will be felt widely by businesses dependent on Disneyland tourists’ expenditure on hotels, restaurants and related businesses in the area,” the report states. “This will further add to the woes of the Orange County economy while adversely affecting tax revenues of the surrounding cities, especially those of Anaheim and Garden Grove.”
Though things are bleak, Puri said he and his fellow economists are optimistic about the health of the local and regional economy. A recent Cal State Fullerton survey of local business leaders found that nearly 27% expect the economy to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of this year; 33.3% expect it to happen after 2021.
"The next three months are critical," Puri said. "That is going to be the darkest period. It will all depend on the path the coronavirus takes. But we believe, based on household optimism and business stability, we have a brighter future ahead of us."