Get back to normal. Spend as before. Buy central Illinois first. We’re being encouraged by news outlets and business organizations to put the events of September 11 behind us and help kickstart a sluggish economy by increasing our spending. Even before the terrorist attacks, unemployment claims were higher than they had been in decades. The manufacturing and tech sectors, mired in slumps for more than one year, continued to slide under massive corporate layoffs, decreased product demand and inventory build-ups.

All of this has our elected officials, retailers, manufacturers, and business leaders—and virtually all of us—nervous. On the heels of the largest economic expansion in our history, the response to this economic downturn resulted in a somewhat different approach—first nationally, and now locally. The aim is to regain consumer confidence and encourage all to spend again. Simple. To the point. At least two local organizations have put practical public relations plans in place to encourage spending.

Our compliments to the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce for launching its Buy Central Illinois Consumer Confidence Campaign. It is a well-intentioned effort to coax consumers and businesses to put their money back into the economy, the local economy.

Recognizing a need to move fast, Keith Arnold and the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau are reminding us of the economic impact of tourism by creating and launching a new regional marketing plan to lure greater numbers of tourists to the area. "Each tourist spends on average about $130 per day. Over the course of a year, each of our tax bills is $500 lower as a result of tourist and convention dollars flowing into the area," he said. "Tourism Works for the Peoria Area … Tourism works for America."

We need to keep in mind, though, that central Illinois isn’t just a local economy, a regional economy, or even a state economy. It’s an international economy. Caterpillar has built a world-class manufacturing giant in part by exporting more than 50 percent of the machines, engines and parts it manufacturers here. Many organizations in the Peoria area serve national and international markets. Many local retailers already sell on-line, reaching those who prefer to shop off-hours, as well as expanding to a much broader region. Arnold spoke to Downtown Rotarians and Bureau members recently, saying, "We need new business. We need to put together packages to target markets. We need to instill and encourage community pride by inviting friends, families and associates to come to our Peoria area."

The challenges presented when business is slow can be viewed as an opportunity. An opportunity to look at new processes and business methods that can lower costs and boost efficiency. An opportunity to make product enhancements. An opportunity to study your competitors and consider your potential to reach new customers. An opportunity to develop a strategic road map that will position your company for the future.

For the everyday consumer and business, of course, we want goods to be purchased locally whenever possible. It’s good for the health of local enterprises and economies in that those dollars get recirculated. Local retailers, especially car and electronics dealers and furniture stores, are doing their part by offering enticing low or no-cost financing on bigger ticket purchases.

Even during normal down times, it’s natural to retrench. Post-September 11 has caused an extra bit of conservatism and a cautious wait and see attitude. Right now the real spending season is upon us. November sales jumped 7.1 percent, surprising analysts who remain cautious about how retail sales will fare this month.

As business leaders, we must reverse the post-September 11 perception that every industry is being devastated by the trauma. The government has its hands full right now—it’s important that the business world take the lead in managing consumer confidence. We must acknowledge and share some positive business news that will reassure, and have the greatest effect on consumer confidence in today’s economy. As consumers, we need to recognize buying local keeps our local economy going, while helping to pay for our city services. Here in Illinois River Country, we have so many ways to play… share the news confidently. IBI