Strengthening Peoria’s economy will take ‘horse sense’

It’s jarring when reality thumps wishful thinking. But “if wishes were horses, beggars would ride,” as it’s said.

(Maybe the central Illinois equivalent is, “If wishes were caterpillars, butterflies would come.”)

Anyway, the Peoria economy seems to be crying, “My kingdom for a horse!”

With the recovery from the Great Recession struggling, the personal finance company WalletHub conducted an in-depth analysis of U.S. cities’ economies, and it found that Peoria is far below average, ranking 372nd in the list of 515 local economies, based on city size.

True, Peoria’s situation is better than Chicago (#379) and St. Louis (#490), and also better than Rockford (#491) and Decatur (#510). But Peoria’s ranking wasn’t nearly as good as Champaign (#259) or Bloomington (270). That said, the study was done before Mitsubishi announced plans to close its Bloomington factory, but it also was finished before Caterpillar announced significant layoffs in the next few years.

Regardless of newer factors, the news isn’t good, according to this research, which compared 515 U.S. cities across 10 key metrics, ranging from population growth to declines in the unemployment rate, all done to better identify U.S. cities that are growing in socioeconomic terms.

Or not.

Peoria’s growth rank (with 1=Best; 515=Worst):

161st in population growth

168th in working-age population growth

39th in poverty rate change

26th in median household income growth

227th in unemployment rate decrease

226th in job growth/loss

75th in full-time jobs increase

110th in regional GDP growth

218th in change in the number of businesses

92nd in growth of median house prices

Overall rank: 372.

Perhaps more helpful is a comparison of Peoria’s specific numerical results in the criteria to the fastest-growing U.S. market: Odessa, Texas.

Population growth – Peoria 0.58 percent; Odessa 2.7 percent.

Working-age population growth – Peoria 0.59 percent; Odessa 3.19 percent.

Poverty rate change – Peoria +1.28 percent; Odessa -3.76 percent.

Median household income growth – Peoria 2.44 percent; Odessa 4.08 percent.

Unemployment rate decrease – Peoria -4.83 percent; Odessa -18.06 percent.

Job growth/loss – Peoria -1.02 percent; Odessa +5.97 percent.

Full-time jobs increase – Peoria +4.01 percent; Odessa +5.02 percent.

Regional GDP growth – Peoria 0.04 percent; Odessa +5.3 percent.

Change in the number of businesses – Peoria -0.67 percent; Odessa +2.5 percent.

Growth of median house prices – Peoria 0.08 percent; Odessa 10.03 percent.

“In 2014, the U.S. recorded its lowest population gain since the Great Depression,” according to Wallethub’s Richie Bernardo. “Growth stood at 0.73 percent, largely in contrast with the 5 percent of the 1990s, a period of prosperity. Demographer William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution attributed the decline to the economic downturn.

“Not only did the crisis deter job-seeking migrants from flocking to the U.S., but it also discouraged couples from having children,” Bernardo continued. “Meanwhile, population numbers shifted across states, creating short- and long-term effects on local economies.”

Comparing Peoria just to other mid-size cities (with populations between 100,000 and 300,000), Peoria remained below average, ranking 185th out of 240 cities.

The personal finance firm based its findings on two crucial aspects: jobs/economic environment and socio-demographic data. Then using the 10 metrics, the study analyzed information from 2009 to 2014, the time when the nation’s economy was trying to rebound from the financial crisis. The bottom line is that despite optimism in some quarters, considerable progress is still needed – arguably even more so with the looming job losses at Cat.

Can the community persevere? To belabor the horse metaphor, there’s a telling Mexican proverb: “It is not enough for a man to know how to ride; he must know how to fall.”

Can Peoria get up again?

Bill Knight

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