This issue of Peoria Magazine is focused on healthcare and the tremendous impact it has on our region. Over the past eight months, I think we have all become keenly aware of the importance of the medical infrastructure in Greater Peoria. So hopefully it is fitting to use this space to discuss a word most often associated with healthcare: recovery.
A Mixed Bag
Recovery is also a word in the economic development world. It is used to describe the bounce back from an economic shock like a natural disaster or the loss of a major employer. COVID-19 has certainly been a disaster. Sadly, it has caused physical pain, sickness and death; but it has also caused incredible economic pain.
Nearly every sector of the economy has been hit in one way or another. Manufacturing was greatly impacted by supply chain disruptions and workforce shortages. Construction activity has slowed as economic uncertainty puts building plans on hold. The retail, hospitality and entertainment industries have been devastated by stay-at-home orders and a stay-at-home mentality. Even the medical industry, so critical to our economy, suffered as elective and non-critical procedures were shelved.
Some eight months after the start of the pandemic, I was hoping I might be writing about a full-throated recovery with everything back to normal. More realistically, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
Some economic indicators are showing positive trends. The unemployment rate in October 2020 (the latest available data) dropped to 5.4 percent—not a great number, but the lowest it’s been since March and far better than April’s 17.4 percent. A bit more than 172,000 people in our region reported being employed. That number is nearly 30,000 higher than April and on par with pre-pandemic February 2020. We saw similar positive news in the labor force statistics: October was the highest it has been since January 2020. (GPEDC keeps track of this data at data.greaterpeoria.us.)
Moving Forward Together
While we all welcomed the end of 2020 for obvious reasons, the beginning of 2021 remains worrisome. Though a vaccine is in sight, the holiday surge in cases and uncertainty about the near-future continues to depress economic activity. That is why no one is sitting still and hoping that recovery just happens.
Much of the ongoing work is akin to applying a tourniquet. Recognizing the present needs, local governments continue to create and facilitate financial assistance programs for businesses. Organizations like the Greater Peoria EDC and regional chambers of commerce will connect businesses with the advice, information and resources they need to survive. Financial institutions are still working with clients to restructure debt, and social service agencies continue to help people suffering the impacts of economic woes.
This work must and will continue, but simultaneously we are working to rebuild our economy. Here are some examples of the great initiatives underway to help rebuild and remake our community:
- Workforce: The Regional Workforce Alliance, led by the CEO Council, is developing tools and programs to connect people with jobs within the community that provide family-sustaining wages.
- Entrepreneurship: The “Return to Better” campaign was launched by a number of organizations, including the Peoria Innovation Alliance, GPEDC, Turner Center Small Business Development Center, and a variety of chambers and local governments. The initiative aims to facilitate the creation of more small businesses. In addition, Distillery Labs will soon be online to serve as a center of entrepreneurial activity.
- Tourism: Discover Peoria is working to transform the way visitors consider the Peoria area from an events/meetings-based environment to one built on the area’s great natural and cultural resources.
- Talent: GPEDC, Discover Peoria and the CEO Council are working collaboratively to develop and launch a comprehensive talent attraction campaign to showcase our region to people looking for a new place to call home.
Clearly, we have a long way to go before we consider ourselves fully recovered. But I remind myself that we are the region whose entire economy was suddenly outlawed in 1920. We are the community that had people sporting “Would the last person to leave Peoria turn out the lights?” bumper stickers in the 1980s. Those recoveries were not spontaneous bits of good luck, but the result of planning and commitment. We are nearing the end of our economic illness, but we will need to work together to ensure a full recovery. PM