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A sign posted outside a business in Hemming Village− a popular shopping center for Rexburg students and locals.

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REXBURG − Brigham Young University-Idaho recently announced that it will be holding its spring semester remotely. Some students are taking this opportunity to move back home. But what does this mean for the local economy?

According to a press release from BYU-Idaho distributed in early February, there were 24,004 campus-based students during the 2020 Winter Semester. During the 2019 Spring Semester, there were 20,388 students based on campus. According to the Census Bureau website, in 2018 the Rexburg population was estimated at 28,687. If we take last spring’s numbers and the 2018 population estimate, on-campus Spring Semester students could make up more than 70% of the population.

In the past, the city has made clear that they think the local student population has been undercounted. Madison County officials stated that in 2010 the population was undercounted by about 4,500 people. This year the city and other community leaders have been working on a local campaign that informs students about the census and asks that they participate. When the city is undercounted the area loses out on a substantial amount of money from state funding. This, in turn, affects local businesses.

In previous interviews with Rexburg’s Director of Economic Development and Community Relations Scott Johnson, he said businesses and franchises look at census numbers before deciding to plant a new branch in local communities. If an area is too small they won’t go there out of concern for a lack of employees and consumers. It may not be the deciding factor but it is critical in decision making.

Here in Rexburg, the future of housing is directly affected by students leaving the area. Some housing complexes are holding meetings discussing what they will do, others are holding students to their contracts.

“We’re trying to work with them,” said Cove Apartment Manager Danika Hann.

Hann said they aren’t releasing anyone from their contract. Instead, they’re extending the contract.

“We’re extending them, if they’re not here in spring we will still hold them to the contract but we won’t charge them for spring,” she said. “(Instead) we’ll push the contract to fall or winter if they’re here. We can also stall their contract.”

Hann said it will be nearly impossible for students to sell their spring contract so extending the contract to a further date will give tenants time to sell.

“It’s a difficult issue for both parties but we want to do what’s best for them,” she said.

Sydney Jolley, student secretary at the Housing and Student Living Office, said each apartment complex is different and are making different decisions.

When asked about what the Lodge was doing with its tenants, the Director of Leasing Trevor Deal said the Lodge ownership is coming up with a plan that will be beneficial for everybody but they don’t have an answer quite yet.

“I wish I could give (you) an answer,” he said. “Ownership is discussing this (right now). This is a first time for everyone and ownership (at other complexes) is probably freaking out trying to figure out what’s gonna happen. Right now I don’t have an answer. I’m hoping by the end of the day we may have an answer as to what the game plan is going to be.”

Thomas O’Bryant, community manager at Somerset Apartments, had a similar answer.

“We actually don’t know,” he said. “We’re still in the process of talking with the property owner. Hopefully, we will know in a few days.”

O’Bryant said they will notify all of their tenants once a decision is made.

In an effort to create a sense of unity the Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce has begun distributing signs that read “Rexburg Strong” encouraging residents to shop local, stay safe, and be a good neighbor. Many fast-food restaurants have closed their dining rooms, Deseret Industry closed its thrift store and Paramount 5 has closed its doors.

“We’re encouraging our local people to support their local businesses,” said Rexburg Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Christopher Mann. “This is going to be a tough time for them. Find ways to support them, either with gift cards or home delivery or looking at their online options. We need to keep our businesses in Rexburg as strong as possible.”

Students with questions about their courses in spring can visit BYU-Idaho’s emergency website at emergency.byui.edu

For more information about Madison County and their response to COVID-19 check out their website at bereadymadison.org