There are reasons to smile about the local economy

DeWayne Bartels
Jim McConoughey, CEO of the Heartland Partnership, smiled last night while speaking about the local economy.

Bob Woolsey was in a good mood as he stood before a group of about 200 of Peoria’s economic powerhouses last night.

Woolsey, CEO of Jones Bros. Jewelers, said he had a question for those seated before him at Bradley University.

He asked everyone who believed Peoria’s economy is doing pretty well to stand up. As most of the room came to their feet he took photos with a camera. 

“I have proof,” Woolsey said.

Better than average

Woolsey was speaking at the annual Robert T. Stevenson Lecture where the national and local economy were the topics of discussion. 

Before Woolsey delivered his feel good lecture Bradley University economic  professors Bob Scott and Robert Lewer gave a sobering perspective on the national economy of which Peoria is a part. But, even their bad economic news was tempered with words of reassurance about Peoria’s situation. 

Lewer said the collapse of the housing market driven by sub prime loans is at the root of the nation’s economic woes. The sub prime problem, he said, has tentacles creeping into the credit market.

That, he said, has repercussions deepening the economy’s problems.

With tight credit, he said, there is less money for entrepreneurs and, therefore, lower job creation.  

“We have some more losses to take in this country,” Lewer said.

“We’re taking a beating nationally.”

Lewer said while the Peoria area will experience pain it will be minimal compared to many other regions of the nation. And, he added, with the economic bailout under way good news is on the horizon nation-wide.

“Some positive seeds have been planted,” Lewer said.

“It hasn’t fixed all the problems, but we’re seeing good signs.”

Lewer said the nation is now in the “midst of darkness,” but he said the signs point to a controlled economic landing.

Consumer confidence, he said, is the key.

Feel good 

Woolsey agreed that consumer confidence is key to Peoria weathering this economic downturn better than many portions of the country.

Woolsey said he was not content to rely on just anecdotal evidence in the media or his own experiences in his store to assess Peoria’s economy as good.

“I’m seeing people spending money,” Woolsey said.

He sees it in his store.

And, he saw it at Target following Thanksgiving. Woolsey said he watched people with carts full of merchandise, with deals not as good as last year's waiting more than an hour to check out. He spoke of watching Sherman’s expand their store.

“It’s exciting to be part of a community that is different,” Woolsey said, referring to a community that is not tied strongly to the nation’s economic problems.

Woolsey said he anticipates growth in 2009 at his business.

"In out store we are doing well ... Customers are concerned about the economy, but they are spending,” he said.

“It is different and better in Peoria.”  

Woolsey said what Peoria needs is an infusion of good news.

“We overindulge the negative. If you expect positive, positive things happen.”