The Great American Eclipse of 2017 is over, with the next significant viewing opportunity in the U.S. expected in 2024. With such a highly-anticipated event that was visible to all of North America, there have been a multitude of articles discussing the associated economic booms and productivity losses. For towns in 14 states that were in the path of totality, or the 70-mile wide band in which the sun was completely obscured by the moon, an influx of tourists presented an opportunity for economic gains, albeit some logistical headaches. The demand for eclipse-watching spots in the path of totality even led to farmers renting out campsites and rooms that were available for a mere $1,500 per night. While some towns decided against promoting their prime viewing area due to potential for strained resources, others embraced the eclipse tourists—and their wallets.
A Boom for Business
For example, the town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, branded themselves “Eclipseville” to highlight that the town was geographically-closest to the point of Greatest Eclipse, which NASA describes as “the instant when the axis of the Moon’s shadow cone passes closest to Earth’s center.” Approximately ten years ago, Hopkinsville officials learned that the town would be in the path of totality and would experience one of the longest total eclipse times—approximately two minutes, forty seconds. The eclipse-watching potential was appealing for a town that has suffered economically due to declines in tobacco farming and local industry. Hopkinsville even largely credits the 2017 eclipse with increasing per capita income by 50 percent and decreasing poverty levels between 2005 and 2015. While official totals are still out, Hopkinsville had a crowd of at least 100,000 watching the event with an estimated economic impact of $30 million. Other estimates for eclipse-watching tourists were varied, with many towns appearing to come in under anticipated figures.
In addition to finding the best spot to watch the event, many individuals sought out recommended gear to safely experience the spectacle. Eclipse glasses with NASA and the American Astronomical Society’s recommended “ISO 12312-2” safety indicator became quite difficult to obtain as the date of the event grew closer. This supply-and-demand issue was exacerbated after Amazon issued a safety recall on glasses that could not be confirmed as produced by a recommended manufacturer, “out of an abundance of caution.” According to one article, the price of an ISO-approved, pack of ten Soluna glasses on Amazon increased from $3.69 on July 31st to $159 on August 17th—an increase of 4,209 percent! Not everyone waited until crunch-time to look for eclipse glasses—many individuals prepared for the event years in advance. American Paper Optics, a recommended manufacturer, sold 45 million pairs in the two years leading up to the eclipse, including 10 million that were sold between July and August.
Loss of Workplace Productivity
On the other hand, what about all of the lost productivity from workers taking a mid-day break or skipping work to experience the eclipse? One frequently cited figure of $694 million was calculated by the law firm Challenger, Grey & Christmas—a firm that has also produced estimates on NCAA March Madness-related productivity losses. While some reviews of this figure have been critical and peg the figure as too high, noting that employees are likely not at peak-productivity on a constant basis as the calculation assumes, it is fair to assume there were likely more eyes than usual looking at the sky rather than at a computer screen or desk while the eclipse was visible.
I happened to be on a family vacation during the eclipse—limiting my productivity loss—and enjoyed spending the afternoon watching the sky from the beach. Though preliminary numbers are still being crunched to determine economic impacts of the one-in-a-lifetime event, it is clear that the Great American Eclipse of 2017 brought people all over the country together for a few moments in time. And that in itself, is quite a significant impact.